Miscellanea (3)

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“Had I the plantation of this isle, my lord, and were the king on’t, what
would I do.”― THE TEMPEST.

DURING my rambles about the bold headlands in the neighbourhood of the Giant’s Causeway, I had often seen the wild Isle of Rathlin, far away in the sea, between Bengore, the most northern part of Ireland, and the Mull of Cantyre, in Scotland, sometimes looming weird and dim amongst the misty waters, at others, so clear that the green land was distinguishable from tracts of heather; and white streaks seemed to glitter in the sun, here and there, where the limestone crops out upon its sombre shore of basaltic rock.  Rathlin is a singular spot, both in its character and in its history.  Although less than eight miles from Ballycastle, on the Irish coast, its inhabitants have very little traffic with the mainland, and they are accustomed to speak both of Ireland and Scotland as of foreign kingdoms.  I found that the island was difficult of access, on account of the rarity of communication, and also on account of the dangerous nature of the channel, — “Slunk na Marra,” or, “The hollow of the sea,” — which divides it from the Irish coast; and, I think, this made me long, more than ever, to see the place.  However, as there seemed to be no ordinary chance of getting there, I dismissed the thing from my mind again and again.  But, during my stay at Portrush, a pretty little bathing town, about seven miles from the Causeway, I learnt, by accident, that a new Catholic Chapel was to be consecrated in the Isle of Rathlin on a certain day, and the steamer, “Kitty of Coleraine,” was to call at Portrush to take the clergy and their friends to the island.  This seemed a good opportunity for getting across, and I said so to my landlord, who promised to get me a place in the steamer, but I heard nothing more of the matter till the evening before the day of consecration.

As I sat at the open window, watching the play of the tide upon “The Long Strand,” and the gorgeous glow of sunset melting away in hues of deepening splendour as the day declined upon the towers of Dunluce, and the headlands and rocky bays that sweep along the coast in stupendous semi-circles, my landlord entered :—

“After all,” said he, “there will be no steamer to Rathlin tomorrow.  The ‘Kitty’ can’t go.  I suppose she’s too busy on the Bann.  But a friend o’ mine laves this at four in the morning, for Ballycastle; an’ I’ll go bail he’ll give ye a sate on the car, with a heart an’ a half.”

“Well,” said I, “ if you think he will, I’ll go.”

“Och, man, dear,” replied he, “don’t I tell ye he’s a friend o’ mine, an’ a right good fellow to the back of that.  I’ll lay my head to a clamp o’ turf it’s all right.”

“If you’re sure of the man,” said I, “it’s all right.”

“Sure, is it?” replied he, “och, don’t I know Dan to the back-bone — every tether-lenth — as true as guinea-gowld.  Come along, man alive; we’ll go down and spake to him.  Faith, if ye knew Dan as well as I do ye’d take a rise out of yer skin at the bare mention of the crayter.  Come along, now!  Sure, ye’ll have lashins o’ time to tuck in yer breakfast after ye get to Ballycastle.  The boats don’t lave that wi’ the bishop and clargy till nine o’clock.  Oh, faith, man dear, if I could only go with ye!  Come along, now!  Av ye say ‘paes’ by the mortial I’ll disinherit ye for evermore!”

“We’ll go, at once,” said I, and away we went to see the agent; my landlord chatting merrily all the way.  “That fellow’s behind in his rent, any  way,” said he, as a starved looking farmer trailed dolefully by.”  “It’s well seen in the cut of his jib — the crayter.”  Turning out of the main street, which, by-the-bye, means nearly the whole town, — he went into a little yard behind the houses near the Antrim Arms, and there he knocked at the door of a clean-looking cottage.  It was the only house in the yard.  As we stood waiting he whispered to me, “Och, man, dear; Dan’s a right daycent man; one o’ the rale ould stock.  The Lord be good to his four bones!”

The door was opened by a sonsie, middle-aged waman, who held a new-baked “fadge" in her hand, hot from the girdle.  The family was just sitting down to tea.

“Is Mister Daniel in?” said my landlord.

“He is.”

“Can I can see him for a minute?” continued he.

Before he had done speaking, Dan had risen from his seat at the tea-table, and he stood in the doorway, — a stout, broad-set man, of middle-height, and apparently about sixty years of age.  There was a shrewd look upon his round face, and a quiet twinkle gleamed from under his bushy eyebrows; although the snows of time had drifted a little about the sides of his temples, and care had begun to carve crow-feet at the corners of his eye.  But the old man was evidently hale and genial-hearted withal.

“Hollo, Ned,” said he, giving his hand to my landlord, “is that you?  Come in here.”

“No, thank ye, Dan,” replied my landlord.  Then, laying his hand upon my shoulder, he continued, “This is a friend o’ mine.  He wishes to go to Ballycastle early in the morning; an’ I thought maybe ye would oblige him with a sate on the car that lenth.”

“A sate is it?” answered the old man.  “Bedad, I’ll make him a present o’ the whole vayhicle, — horse an’ all, — barrin’ he’ll allow me the pleasure of riding with him.  Faith, sur,” continued he, as he shook me warmly by the hand, “I’ll be heartily thankful for the honour o’ your company!  Any friend o’ this fellow’s is a friend o’ mine.  Sure, Ned (turning to my landlord), ye know that rightly.  Step in here, now, — the two o’ yees, — an’ take a taste o’ somethin’ lively.”

My landlord excused himself, on account of the lateness of the hour; and so we came away.  I parted with him at the entrance to the yard, and took my road, alone, towards the little harbour, where a large Norweigan trader lay rocking in the moonlight, amongst half-a-dozen smaller craft.

The air was exquisitely clear; the full moon was up in a cloudless sky; and the little sea-washed town looked more beautiful than usual in its soft radiance.  I took a walk round Ramore-hill, from whence the view of the sea, and the whole of the fantastic coast, from the dim mountains of wild Donegal to the bold bluff of Fairhead, in the far north, is very grand.  There I sat down awhile, watching the moonlit waves breaking upon the “Skerries,” and upon the rocky shoal, near the Wash Pot, — like molten silver!  The two lights at the mouth of Lough Foyle gleamed steadily across the waters; now and then, the strong revolving light upon Enistrahull, off the coast of Inishone, flashed into view; and the light upon the Isle of Islay, — the nearest of the Hebrides, — shone far beyond the sea, like a dim and distant star.  It was a glorious night.  As I sauntered slowly homeward, delighted with the scene, there was a crowd about the windows of the Antrim Arms.  Some great notability had arrived by the last train, and the little town was in a state of flustration.  I sat up late, reading “The Tempest,” and looking out, now and then, at the phosphorescent glitter rolling along the crest of the moonlit surge.

The fear of sleeping too long made my slumbers fitful, and I was out of bed by three in the morning.  “Night’s candles” were not quite burnt out, and the waning light of the moon was mingling with the grey tinge of dawn.  All was silent except the drowsy murmur of the tide, surging along the beach, within a few yards of my window.  Earth and sky, the long smooth strand, the grassy sand hills, the craggy headlands, and the little town, all — except the murmuring sea — was silent and still, and clear and fresh, as if it was the first morning of a new created world.  As I crept softly down stairs, for fear of awaking the sleeping household, the cheerful aroma of hot coffee met me half-way.   There was a bright fire in the kitchen.  The servant had been up an hour, and my breakfast was ready.  As I sat by the new-lit fire, sipping my coffee, and wondering what sort of place the Isle of Rathlin could be, the old clock upon the stair head struck four in solemn, sonorous, and lonely tones; and the sounds seemed to rush into every nook and cranny of the silent house.  There was no other sound astir, except the clear chirp of one strong cricket, and the timid jingle of my spoon against the cup, for I felt almost afraid to stir anything, lest I should disturb the fine silence which lay on everything around me, like a spell.  The last stroke had hardly died away, when the solitary rattle of a pair of wheels came up the road, and it stopped at the door of my lodging.

“That’s the car, sir,” said the servant, as she quietly laid the coffee-pot down.  She said this in a soft undertone, quite unlike the usual sharp shrill pitch of voice with which she could cleave through all the busy sounds that fill the air at noon-day.  She said it as if the silence around was peopled with something unearthly, which she was afraid to waken.  A knock came to the door.  It was the driver.  I took a parting gulp of the hot coffee, whipped my blue cape over my shoulders, donned a white hat, which had seen “a little service,” and went out, followed by my landlord’s terrier, “Trick,” whose barking rang loud and clear all over the sleeping town; and seemed to fill the unoccupied ear of morning with an untimely activity.

It was a “nipping and an eager air,” and I was cold.  The driver looked very cold, for he seemed to shrink into the woollen tie which swathed his throat, and his pinched nose was red and raw; and the whip in his hand gave a quiet shiver now and then, as if it needed a drop of something warm to waken it up to the business of the day.  The car, too, had a chill and shrivelled appearance — it was evidently very much less than it would have been at warm noon-day; and the horse looked as if it had been sleeping in a windy field all night with the gate open.  The very pavement was starved and still, like an old woman, waiting for relief at the door of a parish office, on a wintry day.  The streets, the houses, the pale blue sky, the waning moon, and the world altogether seemed as if it had just stepped out of a cold bath, and was waiting to be rubbed down with a rough towel.  The moan of the sea had a kind of shiver in it; and even old Dan, who was usually so genial, sat upon the car as stiff and stirless as a mummy three thousand years old.

Nothing on earth seemed to have much warm life in it that morning, except the Skye-terrier, and even that little bunch of indestructible animation, whose progenitors had wintered with the hawk and fox, far away in the cold mountains of the north, looked as if it had been begotten by an icicle out of a snow-drift.  It made my teeth chatter as I drew my cape closer about me, and looked around; but I was, nevertheless, pleased at heart; for it was, indeed, a lovely morning — of the kind.  None of us had much to say.  It was not only too chill, and too soon in the day, but there was something about the fine repose of the scene that seemed to warn us not to disturb its beauty by any impertinent gabble.

As the driver sat upon his seat, gazing with petrified eyes at his starved horse — which stood as still as if every hair of its tail was cut in stone — he looked as if the elements of which he was composed had been put together in a cold state, and would certainly fall asunder if ever that old drab coat of his came unbuttoned.  Dan was “hutched” up into the smallest possible compass in one corner of the car.  His old limbs had crept close together to keep one another warm.  He was cased in a strong blue overcoat; and he had a thick muffler round his neck, and a heavy rug well tucked in about his legs. He bade me “Good morning” and then we shook hands, like two marble statues saluting. And then his old eyes tried to look lively from under the thick sheltering bushes of grey hair, beneath which they seemed to have crept as far as possible out of the cold. But it was no use. Nature would not be cajoled; and the old man’s unthawed constitution entered a quiet protest against doing anything warm at such a chill and untimely hour. His heart had not taken down its shutters for the day; and even the tone of his voice had a cold sound, like a frosty wind whistling through leafless thorns.

Without preamble, we lapsed into silence; and when I got up to my seat, I felt as stiff as a pair of rusty compasses, which had been left out in the rain for a week.

The petrified driver woke up his frozen horse with a touch of the starved whip.  The chill car started, and away we went out at the end of the cold town, like three dead fish, packed up in ice, for a distant market.  The rattle of the wheels sounded strange with all that world of silence to play in; and the old car seemed ashamed of the noise it was making: like a man startled by the din of his own footsteps in the stillness of an empty church.  In that quiet morning hour, many a trifling thing caught the eye which would have been passed unobserved when the senses were crowded with the importunate activities of noon-day; — the bits of stone on the road, knocked hither and thither by horses’ feet; the little pools of water left by the rain; the piece of torn newspaper, which I saw “Trick” worrying with such wild delight, as it drifted about in the wind, the day before; the driblets of hay, where carts had stopped, and horses had time to munch a mouthful in peace; the sugary dust, and fragments of pack-thread, and tea-paper, and raisin-stalks, and mealy sweepings, in front of the grocer’s shop; the mussel-shells, thrown out from cottage doors, after last night’s supper; the broken pipe, dropped by a lounging carter; and the fag-end of a cigar, flung away by some careless swell as he sauntered along, with a glass too much — stuck in his eye; the crushed mouse, run over by a passing cart-wheel; the dead leaves, trailing wierdly in the wind; the bits of turf, and splinters of bog-fir, where a load of firing had been emptied; the picked fish-fins; aye, even the very wheel-ruts, and prints of horses’ feet upon the road — which garish noon would have drowned in obscurity — had now a chance of asserting their presence; and each little pebble seemed to look up, and say, “Now, don’t you see me?  Am I not something, also?  Ask me questions; and I can put you to your wits’ end; for I am older than you dream of.”

As that grey morning dawned upon the unawakened world, our cold car rattled out at the end of the cold town; and the sound filled all the silent street — like a pebble rolling in an empty barrel.  We passed “jolly Ned’s” public, “where drouthy neebors, neebors meet,” we passed the whitewashed house, with the verandah in front, where the old gentleman lives who owns the fishery, near Ballintoy; we passed the little white cottage, where the washerwoman lives; we passed the house that is “To Let,” at ten pounds a year; and the cottage where the smiling car-man dwells, who always “laves it to your honour;” we passed the house where the windows are so thronged with pretty faces, in the day-time, that they look like so many beds of flowers; and we passed the old iron pump, where bare-footed lasses stand in tattling clusters, waiting their turns to get water; and then the houses began to trickle away in twos and threes, till we came to the sandy road, which leads down to “The Long Strand.”  A few yards farther on, we passed the pretty Catholic chapel, with its school, and priest’s house, in enclosed ground; and a little beyond that, the tiny gasworks of Portrush — the last building of all — which seemed to hang on the rest, like a drop at the cold nose-end of the town.  And now we were out among the open country green.

Our way led between low hedge-rows; and sea and land lay open to view; except that a straggling ridge of grassy sand-hills shut from sight the “Long Strand,” which is such a fine wandering ground for the people of Portrush.  There was a strange charm upon all the scene that morning.  The moon, — pensive queen of the silent hours, — silvery hap of the sleeping world, — was paling her soft radiance before the approaching light of day, as she set beyond the wide sea; and the murmur of the tide, which came floating over the sand-hills, harmonised well with the contemplative beauty of that spell-bound dawn.  On the other hand, the landscape was a pleasant rural scene.  The green hedgerows; the fields — here, yellow stubble; there, pasture; and there, healthy-looking green crops — scattered with white-washed farmhouses, often with a few trees clustered about them; the whole of that landward slope, up to the heathery ridge which closes the view, was quite English in appearance; not unlike some of the richest parts of the “Fylde country,” but with a more picturesque diversity of surface. About half-way up between the road and summit of the mountain ridge, the roofless, ivy-clad walls of Ballywillan Church stood clear in the sharp.  The wild Atlantic sings to the traveller all the way from Portrush to the town of Bushmills; and the coast-line is full of rocky grandeur, as far as the eye can see.

About three miles and a half beyond Portrush, the ruins of Dunluce Castle stand upon the summit of a tall crag, lashed by the sea half-way round its base.  A deep green cleft divides it from the main land; and that ruin-crested rock has a singularly wild appearance.  This castle was anciently the seat of the McQuillans, and, afterwards, of the O’Donnells.  It is now a picturesque piece of savage desolation; and all is silent and wild around it.  Those mouldering “towers of other days” stand, in ragged decay, upon the lonely crag, like cold ashes in a rusty fire-grate.  At one point a narrow arch spans the chasm between the rock and the mainland; and the unprotected path leading to the castle, along the summit of this arch, is not more than eighteen inches wide.  In the hollow of a little green vale, about a quarter of a mile from the castle, the ruined Church of Dunluce stands in its ancient graveyard.  It is the only building in the valley now.  All the rest is cultivated land.  Around that ancient church the town of Dunluce once gathered.  Here and there, outlines of the old foundations are still visible.  But the little vale where the old town of Dunluce once stood is silent now, — except when a car rattles by, on the road to the Causeway; or the sea-breeze whistles through the weeds of that deserted graveyard; or the wild bird sings among the ivy upon the ruined walls of its ancient church.  The streams let that “wimples” through that little valley has often run with blood in times gone by; but all is peace there now-such peace as solitude brings.

Leaving Dunluce, the road rises again; and, when about five hundred yards past the rock, let the traveller look back.  The wild crag, with the ruins upon it, are seen thence from their most striking point of view.  If he looks upon them then, he can, indeed, say that he has seen the ruins of Dunluce Castle.

About half a mile still further on we gain a still higher point of the road, and a new scene opens upon our sight.  There is more variety in the great sweep of shore now before the eye — more of picturesque feature in the landward scene.  The pretty white fishing village of Port Ballintray, with its little harbour — so little indeed, as to be hardly distinguishable at two miles’ distance; and, immediately beyond that, the little craggy inlet, called “The Black Rock,” — Where, one wild night, a few years ago, poor old Dan Graham, the fisherman, lost his entire family of four sons, who were all drowned within sight of their own hearth-light.  They were so near their own home, in fact, that the old man hailed them from the door-way, and heard their responding cry, as they struggled amongst those fatal waters.  But then and there they all perished, — those four bold young fishermen, — the only children of their aged parents; and there was wild sorrow in the fisherman’s hut that stormy night.  Every port, and almost every sea-washed crag on this coast, is associated with similar tales of disaster.

Beyond “Black Rock ” the headlands rise wilder and loftier, sweeping, one after another, in grand semi-circles, called “Ports,” — Port Coon, Port-na-Gagne, Port Noffer, Port-na-Spagne, Port Moon; and beyond that the ruins of Dunseverick Castle; and the remarkable rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede, or “The Rock of the Road.”  The view of the coast line then closes in with the grand headland called “Fair-head.”  The distance from Portrush to “Fair-head” is about twenty miles, and it may be said to embrace the greatest wonders of the Causeway system.  The whole coast abounds in caves, fantastic rocks, and magnificent headlands.

But now the road gradually leaves the shore, and we turn away inland, within about two miles of the Giant’s Causeway, — of which we may have something to say at another time.  The way to Ballycastle leads through the town of Bushmills, and then across a wild inland tract, in the direction of Knocklade.

As we approach the little town of Bushmills, — famous for salmon and whisky, — the road descends gently into the pleasant valley watered by the Bush, which is an excellent fishing stream, though of no great volume.  It is, perhaps, twenty yards wide under the bridge; and, looking thence, up the stream, it has a very picturesque appearance.  Its water is often tinged with peat, from the tracts of bog through which it flows.  Bushmills is a clean town, almost entirely in one street of little shops, cottages, a chapel, an enclosed market-place, a doleful-looking courthouse, a tolerable inn or two, and half-a-dozen little whisky-shops.

It wanted a few minutes to five as we rode into Bushmills that cold morning; and we had still thirteen miles to go.  I began to think more of the famous Bushmills “dew” than of the water of its picturesque river, and I soon found that there was a general opinion upon the car that a “nip” of it might not be injurious, under the circumstances.

“Do you think Hopkins will be up?” said I to the driver, pointing to a well-known house.

The driver’s face flashed into sudden animation.  “Faith,” said he, “I’ll go bail he is.  He’s an airly riser.  Will I drive to the door, sur?”

“What do you say?” said I to Dan, who sat on the other side of the car.

The old man smiled, and rubbed his hands, as he replied, “Oh, with all my heart!  Bedad, I’ve not the laste objection in the world.  If ye require a taste of anything, ― that’s your only chance before we get to Ballycastle.  An’ it’s just the wan (one) spot where ye’ll get a drop that’ll make your ten toes tingle all the way.”

“That’s true, any way,” said the car-boy.  “Divil a better place I know, for the rale stuff!  Will I drive to the door, yer honour?  Sure, if he’s not up, I’ll be able to rise him out o’ that before ye’d say ‘trap-sticks!’”

“Try it on,” said I; and, in an instant, the car whisked round, and we rattled up to the door.

All was silent from end to end of the little town.  Not a mouse stirring.  It was so still that as we stood looking up at the white blinds of the landlord’s bedroom window, we could hear the murmur of the Bush, filling the little valley with its somnolent song.   Whilst old Dan and I were clapping our hands and stamping about, to restore the circulation, the driver knocked at the door with his whip-handle, and we all looked up, but still nothing stirred.

“Touch him again,” said I.

He knocked again, louder than before, and, as he gazed aloft once more, he said, “Begorra, that’s enough to waken Phin MacCoul!”

The window-blind began to rise slowly.

“There he is at last,” said the driver, clapping his hands.  “Faith, didn’t I make him lave that?”  We heard a sound of slow descending feet upon the stairs inside, and then a muttering voice accompanied the turning of the key, and then the door opened, and the landlord stood before us, in his shirt-sleeves, yawning, and stretching his arms.

“Good mornin’ t’ye, Robert,” said old Dan.

“Good rnornin’!” replied the landlord, as he gazed vaguely at the car, and then at each of us in turn.  “Faith, you’re airly on the road.  Are ye for the Causeway? . . .  Oh, is that you, Dan?  How are ye?  You’re for Ballycastle, I know.  Faith, I was dramin’ that I was as hungry as a hunter; and just as the knock came to the door, I was planted, knife in hand, ready to cut into one o’ the finest Port Moon salmon I ever saw.”

“Bedad, that was a mighty pleasant drame, too,” said old Dan, “barrin’ that ye hadn’t time to finish it."

“Ten minutes more would have done the trick,” continued the landlord.  “Faith, it’s not always one’s drames are worth dramin’ out, but that was.”

“Faith,” said the driver, “it’s little chance I have of aitin’ salmon, barrin’ I get a taste in a drame."

“Bi my soul, then,” replied the landlord, “ye’re welcome to help yourself to the one I left just now.  Take yer fill of it; for divil a mouthful I got.  But what can I do for yees this mornin’?  Faith, it’s tatterin cold.”

“We’ll try a drop o’ the malt, Robert,” said old Dan.

“All right,” said the landlord, as he retired into the house, followed by the three shivering travellers.  The shutters were still up, and, as we stood at the counter side, in the dim light from the doorway, the landlord filled “three half-uns o’ malt,” for which he refused to receive any money, on the plea that it was unlucky to begin the day stingily.  The dose was repeated with general satisfaction, and, after a little cheerful chat, we mounted the car again, and rode away as the landlord took down his shutters.


Buried and cold, when this heart stills its motion,
Green be thy fields, dearest isle of the ocean,
Thy harp-striking bards, singing loud with emotion,
Erin, mavourncen, slan laght go bragh!


THE fingers of the market clock pointed to five, as we rode through Bushmills.  We met a few starved-looking stragglers, on their way to work; and we caught sight of at half-awakened face, here and there, peeping through cottage-windows, as we rattled by.  We passed a grocer’s shop, or two; a shoemaker’s shop; three or four whisky shops, in different states of dinginess; a gloomy-looking building, called a “court-house;” an hotel — at least it said so on the sign — and a sleepy-looking draper’s shop, at a drowsy corner, in which there is one of the serenest post-offices in all Christendom; and, after that, the houses seemed to grow poorer and smaller, till the last of them dribbled away behind us; and we were out at the town-end, once more, with the morning breeze blowing about us fresh from the sea.  The Bushmills’ “dew” had warmed us a little, and Dan and I began to chat across the car, but we very soon lapsed into silence again; and then we rode on, mile after mile, through the cold wind, unaccompanied by any sound, except the lonely sough of the wind, the chirrup of birds in the hedges, the cackle of geese, as we passed some poverty-stricken roadside farmstead, and the wailing voice of the car-boy, who had begun to croon an old Irish song, —

On the deck o’ Patrick Lynch’s boat,
I sat in woful plight,
With my sighing all the weary day,
And weeping all the night;
Were it not, that full of sorrow,
From my people now I go,
By the blessed sun, it’s royally
I’d sing thy praise, Mayo.
When I dwelt at home, in plinty,
An’ my gold did much abound,
In the company of fair young maids,
The Spanish ale went round,

Then pointin ahead with his whip, he cried out “Oh, murther sheery!  Did you see that?”

“What was it?”

“A thunderin’ big weazle, crossin’ the road beyant there!  An’ a mighty great hurry he was in too — the blackguard!”  Then giving the horse a switch, he cried, “Go along out o’ that!  Are ye dramin’, or schamin’, ye divil?  Bedad, your memory’s not half so long as your tail, anyhow; for I’ve no sooner laid the flax on your bones than ye forget it’s been there.”  Then he struck up the song again: —

Oh, they’re altered girls in Irrul now,
They’re grown so proud an’ high,
With their ribbons an’ their top-knots,
For I pass their buckles by;
But it’s little now I heed their airs,
Since God will have it so,
That I must depart for foreign lands,
And lave my own Mayo!

Then, giving his horse another switch, he cried, “Och, quit yer capers, ye divil, an’ don’t be after tryin’ to walk on three legs.  Sure, it’s not a funeral yer at.”  And then he broke into song once more:

Oh, where are ye going, ma bouchaleen bawn,
From father and mother so early at dawn?
Och, rather run idle from evening till dawn,
Than darken their household, ma bouchaleen bawn.

The next ten miles of our journey lay across a great dark waste — level, lifeless, and lonely — except that it was relieved a little, at long intervals, by some poor, slobbery farmstead, or a little ramshackle hamlet, of most miserable looking huts.  And, here and there, the roofless walls of a ruined cottage stood, far apart, upon the bleak landscape, making the solitude around look more solitary still, or a half-dressed unkempt cotter, crept listlessly out of some wretched sheiling by the wayside, and as he stood stretching his arms, and gazing with hopeless eyes across the sombre expanse, he seemed as if he was looking out for something to help him through another dreary day.

Then came a vast tract of bog land.  Turf, turf, turf, — dark turf — everywhere around.  Turf cut in clods, and ranged in long, open lines, for drying, — “win-rows,” as a Lancashire hay-maker would call them, — turf “footed,” turf “rickled,” and turf “castled.”  These are the terms used by turf-cutters for the different modes of arranging the clods after they are cut.  Here was dry turf, piled in great stacks, to protect it from the rain, until it was carted away by purchasers, and there were immense gaps in the bog, from which the turf had been excavated.  This was, indeed, a wild-looking bit of our planet, — a kind of doleful scab on the face of the earth, with very little visible life upon it, and what life we found upon it, here and there, seemed to be of such a downcast kind that it absolutely saddened the aspect of the desolation around.  It reminded one a little of “Chat-Moss,” only this is far more solitary; for, in the bleakest part of “Chat-Moss,” some evidence of cheerful life, and some bright streaks of cultivation are within the range of vision, but upon this spot, there seems to be nothing but bog between us and the round top of Knocklade — ten miles off.

As we rode on, in silence, I fell into a kind of dream of the days when the ancient chieftains of Ulster — the O’Neills, the O’Cahans, and the O’Donnells — rode across the dark plain, at the head of their wild clans.  This tract may then have been more of a bog, it may have been less drained even than it is now, but its general aspect cannot have been very much unlike what it is today.  The summit of Knocklade — and yon more distant range of mountains, among which the great truncated cone of Sleimis holds dominion over the surrounding scene, must have looked much the same to them as they did to us, riding silently along, on that cold, contemplative autumn morning.  By the way, Sleimis is the mountain upon which Saint Patrick is said to have kept sheep when a captive boy.  And a fine nursery-ground it must have been for the development of such a remarkable spirit:—

Rise, rise ye ages, from the mists of night,
Rend time’s dark veil, and burst upon my sight !
Round Sleimis see what beams of glory play,
A sainted stranger pours the flood of day!
A cross he bears, whose high and potent swell
Has burst the adamantine gates of hell;
And in his hand the sacred charter brings
Of life immortal from the King of kings.
Where’er he treads, what new-born joys abound,
Serpents and dragons flee the hostile ground,
The monsters of the wild, his voice obey,
And pride and lust more furious far than they.

We are now at the head of a gentle slope, which descends to the town of Ballycastle, in the pleasant valley, about a mile of.  On a slight eminence, at the left-hand side of our way, stands the ancient burial-ground of Romoan.  The old church is gone.  In my wanderings about this part of Ireland I have noticed how many such ancient graveyards there are, where the churches to which they belong are either in utter ruin, or else have wholly disappeared.  The houses of the dead last longer than the houses of the living, and mouldering bones have not much temptation for the spoiler.  But we are approaching Ballycastle, which, in the ancient Irish, is called “Ballycashlain,” or “Castletown.”

Ballycastle is a small seaport, on the coast of Antrim, in the extreme north of Ireland.  It derives its name from a castle built there in 1609, by Randolph, Earl of Antrim, who was directed by James I. to raise “faire castles,” at reasonable distances, upon his vast estates, that the country might be more speedly civilised and reduced to obedience.  The town is situated at the head of the fine bay to which it gives name, and in a beautiful valley, at the foot of Knocklade, opposite to the Isle of Rathlin. Knocklade is a great, round-shaped, graceful mountain, and, as we approached it from about a mile’s distance, it looked as if it was cultivated to the very top.  The whole slope is divided into different fields, and its general aspect is mottled, in a kind of mosaic way, with different hues of growth, in different states of cultivation.  On the summit of the mountain stands a lonely cairn, called in the ancient Irish Cairn an truir, or “the grave of three.”  But even tradition itself is silent as to what three they are that have been buried there so long.  A thousand storms have swept over their lonely grave, on the wild top of Knocklade; their history is as mute as the mountain upon which they lie, their very memories are as dead as themselves.  There are some ruins of the castle, from which the town derives its name, and also some ruins of the abbey of Bona Margy, a religious house, founded in 1509, by Charles MacDonnell, for monks of the Franciscan order.

Where Margy’s walls, unroofed and mouldering stand,
’Mid the long rye-grass rustling o’er the sand,
Where many a heaving sod, and rustic stone,
Death, dread destroyer, mark the place thy own.
What sacred orisons with morn arose,
What heaven-taught vespers blest the evening’s close!
Lost to the world, its follies all forgot,
There chose the monk his calm contented lot,
Told o’er his beads, his useless vigils kept,
Or, o’er the pages of the fathers slept.

Bona Margy is still the burial-place of the Antrim family, who have put a new roof on a small oratory erected over the ashes of their ancestors, over the window of which is a Latin inscription, scarcely legible, importing that it was built in 1621, by Randolph MacDonnell, earl of Antrim.  In 1811 there was found, by the side of a rivulet, near the town, a flexible rod of gold, composed of twisted bars, thirty-eight inches long, hooked at each end, and weighing twenty ounces and a half; it was, undoubtedly, a Roman torques, and probably brought here by some of the Danish or Scottish ravagers of Roman Britain.

Ballycastle was once a manufacturing town of some importance.  It had a good harbour, and, in the immediate neighbourhood, there were breweries, glass-works, and collieries, all in full work.  It also produced a considerable amount of linen-yarn.  But almost all these elements of industry have declined.  The harbour is choked up, the pier and quay are a heap of ruins, and the town is now chiefly notable for agricultural produce.  There is a little fishing in the bay, and the Isle of Rathlin sends ponies, horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, beans, peas, oats, and some linen-yarn to its market.

As we drew near Ballycastle we began to meet people hurrying on their way to work.  Shutters were being taken down here and there, dogs were barking and frisking together about the fish stones, and the life of a new day was just beginning to stir.  The road enters the town about the middle, just in front of the market-place.

The car whisked round, at the right-hand corner, and almost immediately stopped at the door of Laverty’s Inn. There was a dusty, rough-and-tumble appearance about the exterior, and the smell of whisky mingled with a damp earthy aroma — as if the place had been a potato warehouse a fortnight before, and had not been cleaned out since it changed hands.  But when I got into the house I found the kernel a vast deal better than the shell had led me to expect.

It was about seven in the morning when we got to Laverty’s door.  The moment the car stopped Trick leaped down and ran among a swarm of mongrels which were at play in the market-place, and he began to romp and sniff with them at once, as if they had been thick together all their born days.

By this time I felt as if I could do with another breakfast, and I was very glad to find that old Dan was of the same inclination as myself; indeed, he had already ordered breakfast for two, and he was pacing to and fro, and rubbing his hands in anticipation of the feast.  An eighteen-mile ride, on a cold morning, in a keen sea-breeze, on a jaunting car, would almost waken an appetite under the ribs of death.  The landlord came smiling towards us from the shady rearward of the house.  He was a stout, middle-aged man, with a shrewd, and yet a very good-humoured countenance.  He wore a cloth cap, and there was a mealy work-like appearance about his clothing.  He looked like a man who was ready to tackle any kind of job that might turn up.  He was not unlike some active, well-conditioned grocer, in a Lancashire manufacturing town.  But I soon found that he was a genuine Irishman to the backbone.

“Good mornin’ to ye, Mister Dan,” cried he, recognising my fellow-traveller.  “How are ye the day?  Faith, ye had a cold ride this rnornin’.  Come along here — the pair o’ yees.  Just take half-uns apiece wi’ me, afore ye go to breakfast.  Come along, sir,” continued he, as he shook hands wi’ me, “You’re a friend o’ Dan’s, an’, faith, I’m glad to see ye.”

The buxom landlady stood smiling on the other side of the counter.  She filled the glasses in an instant, and as she handed the drink to us, she said, in most musical Milesian brogue, “There’s for yees, gentlemen!  That’s the stuff for a cough or a cowld.  The breakfast ’ll be ready in a couple o’ minutes, Mister Dan.  In the old room to the fore, Mister Dan.  An’, faith, I hope yees are in dacent trim, for it’s a cowld journey yees left immediately behind yees this mornin’.”

As she was speaking a bare-footed girl hurried by with a tray full of boiled eggs.

“Norah, dear,” said the landlady, “did ye mind the eggs?  Sure ye know Mister Dan requires them boiled aisy.”

“Sure, I kept my eye on them, ma’am,” replied the girl, “an’ the ham is at the fire.”

“That’s right, dear,” answered the landlady.  Then, turning to Dan, she continued, “Sure, I done a nice dish o’ chops for yees myself, Mister Dan.”

“Thank ye, ma’am,” says Dan.

“An’, look here now, gentlemen,” says the landlord, “if there’s anything else ye can think of, bi way of a little divarsion for the teeth this cold mornin’, faith, I hope ye’ll spake out; an’ don’t be lavin’ the house longin’.”

“Och, what ’ud we want more?” replied Dan.  “Sure the mistress knows right well how to spread the board for a hungry traveller — divil a one better.  Faith, I don’t know what else we’d require, barrin’ it was a stuffed shark, done on the gridiron, bi way of a change.”

“Oh, well, indeed, then, Mister Dan,” said the landlord, “ye might as well ask for holy water in an Orange lodge.”

As we stood chatting thus at the counter side, a startling object came into the doorway.  It was one of those mendicants known in the south of Ireland by the name of “lamiters.”  The head and bust were those of a man of more than ordinary size and strength, ending in a little bundle of filthy rags upon a kind of sledge.  This strange fragment of humanity was propelled to and fro by a pair of long and powerful arms, which worked with wonderful alacrity.  As the “lamiter” came slinging up to the counter side it was evident that he was well known in the place, for he cried out in a free and sonorous voice,

“Mornin’ t’ye, Missis Laverty!”

“Mornin’, sur,” replied she, looking down across the counter.

“Would you oblige me wid a half-un o’ malt, ma’am, plase?” said he, rubbing his hands.

“I will,” replied she, whisking round to reach a glass.

“An’, for the love o’ God, Missis Laverty,” continued he, gazing upward, “give us a good taste this cold mornin’; ma’am, an’ good luck to ye.”

“Faith, I will,” replied she, and when she had filled the glass she bent down, over the counter, and, as she handed the drink to him, she said, “Try that, now.”

“Long life t’ye, ma’am!” replied he, reaching his arm up for the glass.  “Here’s t’ye, Missis Laverty!”

And in an instant the whisky was gone.

The “lamiter” uttered a slow inarticulate sigh of satisfaction, as the drink trickled down his throat; and then, giving his lips a smack, as a kind of farewell kiss to a departing joy, he cried “Good mornin’ t’ye, Missis Laverty!”

And then the brawny arms slung the strange trunk out at the doorway, and we saw him no more.

Dan and I went aloft to breakfast, and we did justice to the bountiful spread before us, that morning.  When we had finished I took leave of him, and he promised to wait with the car for me till the boats returned from the island in the evening, that we might ride back to Portrush together.  I then took my way, alone, towards what is called “The Lower Town,” down by the seaside.  There is nothing very remarkable in “The Upper Town” of Ballycastle, with its little shops and whisky stores, its modern church, its worn fish-stones in the centre of the market-place, its dingy cottages, which wear a faint appearance of having been whitewashed some time long ago, and its head inn, “The Antrim Arms,” which, in spite of its heraldic sign, has a very cheerless look outside.  Indeed, the whole town has a kind of washed-out appearance, as if it was brooding with a disappointed heart upon days gone by, and had hopelessly given up struggling against the approach of decay.

A broad road, about half-a-mile long, divides the upper from the lower town, and it is lined with fine trees, and overlooks a beautiful little green valley on the right hand side.  The dwellings improve in appearance as we descend this pleasant road; they grow cleaner, more tasteful, and better appointed in every way, — in fact, the whole suburb, if I may call it so, hangs upon the hive of listless humanity in the upper town like a fringe of new silk upon a worn-out shawl.

It wanted a few minutes to nine o’clock when I got down to the rude landing-place, from which the boats were to start for the island.  The passengers had not all mustered, and the boatmen were wandering in and out among the white cottages facing the sea.

“Ye’re all in good time, sir!” cried one of the boatmen.  “Sure the clargy are not down yet!”

There were two boats going over to Rathlin, chartered for Dr. Dorrian, the Bishop of Down and Connor, and about a dozen of the clergy of his diocese, and their friends; and I think I must have been the only person in the company who was not going specially to be present at the consecration of the Catholic chapel on that wild island.  Whilst waiting the arrival of the bishop and his clergy, I sauntered about among boatmen, and fishermen, and folk from the town, who had come down to see the boats off.

“Are ye goin’ over to the island, sir?” cried old Archy Weir, a short, stiff-built, weather-beaten Triton, who looked as shrivelled and as tough as dried haddock.


“That’s right,” replied he.  “Ye’ll go over in our boat, the ‘Old Erin;’ the other boat is taking the bishop, and as many o’ the clargy as possible.  The rest o’ the clargy is goin’ over with us, in the ‘Old Erin.’  There’s plenty of time yet, sir.  The other boat starts first.  I’ll look out for ye,” and then, as he looked quietly around, and up from sea to sky, he said, “I hope we’ll have a good passage — plase God.”

Our boat was the worst of the two, and it was worst manned.  The crew consisted of a lad about sixteen years old, another hungry-looking slip scarcely twenty, old Archy Weir, who acted as skipper, and a little simple-hearted boatman called Hugh MacKinley, who was joint owner of the boat with John Brown, landlord of a little “public” near the landing-place.

Somehow, whilst wandering about the cottages by the beach, I got into talk with a young tailor, who sat at work upon his shop-board close to the window, whilst his tall, fresh-looking wife sat upon a three-legged stool by the fire, with her bare-footed children playing about her.  He was at work upon a pair of fustian trousers.  I asked him what a full suit of the same would cost making.  He said about ten shillings.  I then asked him if he never felt any desire to try his fortune where there was more work to be had and better pay for it, and he said, with a smile, that he was quite content to live and die where he was.  And, as he squatted there upon his little shop-board, smiling and stitching away in the sunshine, with his little household gods around him, he looked a kindly, quiet-minded, soil-bound man, with great adhesiveness, and no ambition beyond his own fireside, and as happy as a little field mouse that lives and dies in an untroubled nook of the country green.  That gentle domestic spirit would have gone to the wall amongst the cunning aggressive crowds of great cities.  As I sat talking with him, old Archy Weir looked in at the window and said,

“We’re getting ready for a start, sir.”

“All right;” and I bade the tailor and his family “Good day,” and went towards the landing-place, followed by “Trick,” the little terrior belonging to my landlord.

There was a little crowd gathered to watch us off, and I found that the passengers — among whom were three Catholic clergymen and two women — were getting shaken into their places in the boat; so, with the dog in my arms I stepped in, and took my seat near the stern.

The other boat had got well away nearly half-an-hour before, and was scudding across the channel under sail with a fair wind.

“Come now, boys; hurry, or else they’ll make Rathlin before we start!  Come now, Hughie, man; what’re schamin’ an’ dramin’ about!  Take ye’r places, gentlemen, plase, an’ we’ll be away.  Is that your dog, sir?  Go down my bonny man!  Now, Hughie!  Away!

“Good-bye, Archy!  We’ll see you again this evening, plaze God!  Good-bye, Hughie, man, an’ a fair wun to your wee boat.”

“Good-day t’ye, boys!  We’ll have a good passage, wi’ the help o’ Providence!”

“Good luck to yees!  Ye’re all right wi’ the clargy aboard!”

And away we glided from the wild shore of Antrim into one of the most dangerous channels in all the northern seas.


“Where Rathlin braves the surge that round her rolls,
With chalky bastions and basaltic moles,
Dwelt fair Blanaid, of poets’ song and theme,theme,
Fair as the maid of every poets’ dream;
Tinged was her check with health’s vermillion dye,
And joy and beauty frolicked in her eye;
For every youth her subtle charms she wove,
And bound in fetters of relentless love,
Till Ullin’s arms prevailed, and Conrigh’s blade
Had widowed Rathlin’s towers, and won the maid.”


AS our boat glided awa from the Ballycastle shore into the dangerous channel called “Slunk nu marra,” or “The hollow of the sea,” which divides it from the Isle of Rathlin, the little crowd of town’s-folk, who had gathered upon the pier to see her off, shouted farewells to their friends, the boatmen of the Old Erin.  “Good-bye, Archy!” “Good-bye, Hughie, dear!” “A fair wind to yer wee boat, boys!” “A safe passage to ye, Hughie, darlin’!” “Good mornin’ to yees, boys!” cried Hughie.  “We’ll be with yees again, safe and sound, this evening — plaze God!  Sure, we’re all right wi’ the clargy aboord.  Good-bye!”

And away went the Old Erin into one of the most difficult channels in all the northern seas.  The sky was cloudless and the air was cool, and there was a fresh breeze, though not exactly in our favour.  The tide had begun to run out at a tremendous rate before we left the shore, so that we had to strike out considerably to southward, so as to fetch Church Bay, in Rathlin, which is the principal port or harbour of the island, and nearly opposite to Ballycastle.  The distance we had to go, including the circuit made on account of the drift of the tide, was between nine and ten miles.  And we no sooner got clear of the shelter of the Irish shore than the boatmen began to feel the extraordinary force of the tide in this famous channel.  Even in the calmest weather the tides are so irregular, and set down the channel with such force that the mariner’s dangers and difficulties are greatly increased in coasting by the Isle of Rathlin, where he has everything to contend with.  An eminent writer says of this channel, “The channel between Rathlin and the mainland has, it is said, a strong resemblance to the Straits of Reggie, between Sicily and the coast of Calabria, particularly in the indenting of its shores, the velocity of its tides, and the vortices produced by counter-currents.  Like it, the water is frequently agitated and thrown into ridges and whirlings by the violence of the current, the particular direction of certain winds, and the irregular conformation of the coasts.”  I had heard something of this before, but I had not thought much of it till this day, when we crossed over to the island in the Old Erin.

Long before we reached mid-channel, we became sensible of the tremendous run of the water, and the wind being opposite to the tide, we met with a glorious tossing.  The boatmen had a hard time of it, and they began to tug close and silently at their oars, but, for the rest of us, the day was so clear and beautiful, the agitated sea was so grand, the breeze was so refreshing, and the lively action of the boat, and all together, was so inspiriting that we, — I mean we who were not tugging at the oars, — we all enjoyed the thing very much, all of us except little Trick, the terrier, who blinked, and shivered, and nuzzled close into the folds of my cloak every time the spray flew over us.  But, up to this time, all the passengers were so delighted with the novel beauty of the scene that nobody seemed to think anything of the tide and currents of the channel, except the boatmen, who had begun to talk less, and work harder and harder.  We were on the water-path of the ancient Dalraidic invaders, who peopled the isles and islands of Scotland from the shores of Ulster.

The island had a striking appearance as we saw it from the channel.  It is about five miles long and one broad, and it is something like a boot in shape, the toe pointing to the Irish shore, at Ballycastle, the heel towards the Mull of Cantire, in Scotland, and the top to the great western ocean.  There the singular little historic island stood shining in the sun before us, in the midst of a wild and turbulent sea, and hemmed round by steep barriers of frowning rock everywhere, except at Church Bay, the green harbour in front of us, to which we were making the best of our way through the wild waters of “Slunk na marra.”

Church Bay, in Rathlin, is a great sweeping semicircle.  Taken from the outermost points of its rocky wings, the landing-place is almost four miles inward, and until we got within the shelter of these wide-spread wings of the bay, the struggle of the boatmen with the tide was very great, and they laboured and perspired in silence, as if working for the bare life.  Old Archy seemed as if he was getting done up, and one of the passengers took a spell at the oars to relieve him.  The old man then went to the stern of the boat, and lifting up a little loose board he showed us that the Old Erin was leaky, and there was a considerable quantity of water in her concealed by the boards under our feet.  “There’s nothing worse than that in her,” said he, as he began to bale it out with a little rusty tin can.  “It’ll make one man’s work difference,” continued he, as he laded away with his little rusty can.  “It’ll make one man’s work difference when that gets out.”

The passengers now began to see more of the difficulty the boatmen had to contend with, and two of them held out a large rug by way of a sail, which helped the men a little, and then, a wild-eyed islander on his way home to Rathlin, and seemingly lost in dreamy thought, struck up a wailing Gaelic song, which he crooned as he gazed across the wide sea, apparently unconscious of all that was going on around, until my little dog, Trick, began to howl an accompaniment, which set us all a-laughing.  Even the boatmen, in spite of their great exertions, began to be a little more lively.

Old Archy Weir was evidently looked upon by the little crew as their skipper.  He spoke to them with a tone of experience and authority, and even Hughie MacKinley, who was part owner of the boat, obeyed him like a child.  “Come now, boys, dear,” cried he, with big drops rolling down his weather-beaten face, “Come, now, boys dear, tug the Old Erin out of this!  Pull away now!  Hughie, faith yer not doin’ much; that oar o’ yours is goin’ in an’ out like a knife!  Pull away, my bonny men!  Jerk her out o’ this!  We’ll make Rathlin pier in good time yet — plaze God.  Come now, Hughie man, dear!”  And old Hughie MacKinley seemed to blush like a child reproved by his father, as he bent himself silently to his oars with redoubled will.

There was one of the passengers, too, a Catholic clergyman, who did no little to cheer and encourage the toiling boatmen.  Indeed, he kept us alive the whole way with an incessant flow of good spirits and dry humour, which made the men laugh at their work, and drew out all their mettle with a right good-will.  His racy geniality delighted everybody in the boat that day.  He had caught the names of the boatmen, and, taking up the tones of Old Archy, the skipper, to the amusement of all on board, he cried, “Come now, Hughie, my bonnie man, don’t be scatterin’ talk!  Faith, yer workin’ too much with yer tongue, and too little with yer oars!  Tug away, man alive, or we’ll be down wi’ the tide.  Pull away now, my brave fellows!  Crush her along, boys!  Pull away now!  Make her smoke!  Come, Hughie, man, dear, are ye dramin’ or schamin’?  Don’t ye see they’re all dyin’ about ye.  Now she’s awa!”  He said this in broad Scottish dialect.  “Now, she’s awa!  Pull away now, my lucky lads.  Faith, ye’re doing it rightly now!” and thus, with a kind of dexterous geniality, he kept the struggling boatmen cheerily to their work, and contributed no small pleasure to the novel charm of the trip across the channel that day.

As soon as we got within the outer clip of the rocky headlands which terminate the two great wings of Church Bay, we were out of the strong drift of the tide, and the boatmen began to take it easy.  All anxiety was over, and everybody seemed to be in high spirits.  Even the little terrier, Trick, came out from the folds of my cloak, and, with his fore-feet upon the edge of the boat, gazed with a mixture of wonder and satisfaction at the island we were approaching.  The view of the bay, as we rowed slowly in that bright forenoon, was very fine.  The shores which flank the bay are composed of steep crags, of dark basalt, relieved, here and there, by bright limestone; and the play of light and shade upon the beautiful hues of these rocks was exquisite.

At the head of the bay, too, the green lands of the island, which are concealed all round by its rocky shores, began to show charmingly-the sweet kernel of a rugged nut.  Low down, by the green shore, at the head of the bay, stands the episcopal church of the island, from which the bay takes its name, “Church Bay,” and near it is the residence of Mr. Gage, the rector, who is also sole owner and magistrate of the island, and well known there, and to all who visit the island, as a very kindly and hospitable gentleman.  As we drew near the rude landing-place, a little crowd of brown-faced islanders was waiting to welcome us, and to help us ashore.

As soon as I got clear of the slippery landing-place, I stopped to look about me, and the first impression that struck me was that the country, inland, had much the appearance of a bit of Cumberland, in its cultivated parts.  And this is the wild isle of Rathlin!  This is the historic nest in the sea, which has so often felt the fury of Danish, English, and Hebridean arms.  This is the spot where St. Columba founded the famous monastery, which was desolated and destroyed, again and again, by the piratical Dane.  This is the lonely isle to which the famous Robert Bruce fled for shelter from his foes when a heavy cloud lay upon his fortunes.  Upon the summit of a wild sea-washed crag, looking towards the Scottish coast, stand the mouldering ruins of the fortress which afforded him an asylum, and which still bear the name of the illustrious fugitive.  This is the spot where the Campbells destroyed all the old women of the island by precipitation over the rocks, at a point still known by the name of Sloc na Calleach.

The little dog, Trick, was wild with delight when he found himself running about on land again after that tossing in the channel.  He had got safely through his first sea-trip, and he frisked and barked with furious glee around me, as I took my way towards Michael McOuigh’s house, which is the only inn on all the isle of Rathlin.


“A sailor coorted a farmer’s daughter,
’Twas all contagious to sweet Rathlin’s Isle.”


“Be not afraid: the isle is full of noises,
 Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
 Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
 Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices
 That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
 Will make me sleep again.”


AS our tired boatmen rowed slowly up to the weedy landing-place, which was all slippery with green moisture, — they were hailed again and again, by first one, then another of their friends amongst the little crowd of islanders who had come down to the pier to meet the boat. Judging from their garb and general appearance they were mostly sea-faring folk; and perhaps the risky nature of the channel we had crossed had something to do with the warmth of our welcome to land. Beside, strangers are rare in that spot at any time, and are always received with great hospitality; but, on this occasion, an unusual number of the inhabitants had gathered about the shore to witness the extraordinary visitation which had crossed “Slunk na Marra” to the consecration of the new chapel in their lonely isle that day. And then — a bishop — a bishop and his clergy had come over in the boats! It was a great day for Rathlin, and no wonder that the little island was stirred to its centre by such a rare event. I could see these weather-beaten natives of Rathlin’s ocean nest fluttering about in all directions; some crowding the little weedy pier where we landed; some standing in knots, here and there, upon the sea-washed rocks; and others lounging upon the road which winds along the head of the bay — their eyes all fixed with an expression of gleeful curiosity upon the passengers as they stepped ashore from the boat. Everybody was uttering words of welcome, and everybody’s hand was held out to steady our steps along the slippery pier. It was amusing to see the terrier’s feet slide now and then, as he tried to run over the slimy verdure. But as soon as we got clear of the weedy landing-place, the little fellow was wild with delight to find himself upon dry land again after after his sea-trip that day. And so we got to the Isle of Rathlin at last, and I began to look about me with curious eyes to see what the place was like, of which I had heard so much. I did not know a single soul in the place, but I found that there was a little hostelry, kept by one Michael McOuig, about half-a-mile from the landing-place.  This was the only hostelry upon the island, and I took the road thither, among a straggling party of fishermen and others who were going to the same place.  As I got further away from the shore, the cultivated lands of the interior began to meet the eye, and I was surprised to find that the island’s wild girdle of frowning rock concealed so much verdant beauty.

And now, before I enter old Michael McOuig’s quaint hostelry, I will say something about the island in general; and first, of its appearance from the sea.

Rathlin is so hemmed in by lofty head-lands and rocks of mixed basalt and limestone — rich in colour and fantastic in form — that a sail round it affords a constant succession of impressive pictures.  The whole of the coast-scenery of the island is remarkable for its rocky wildness, but especially that part of it which is north-west of “Bruce’s Castle” — where it is strikingly grand.  The rocks are not of very great height, but rising, as they do, almost perpendicularly from the water, they look much loftier than they really are.  The line of the coast, too, is broken into wild amphitheatres, the bases of which are composed of immense masses of limestone, worn by the waves into all sorts of fantastic forms.  Above the limestone the grass and earth appear, and, still higher, the dark basaltic rock.

In the rocky shores of the island there are numerous caves.  The finest of these is “Bruce’s Cave,” situate a little north-west of the ruins of “Bruce’s Castle.”  It rises at its entrance about seventy feet, and it is about fifty feet in depth.  It is formed of noble arches of sombre basalt resting in layers behind one another.  It faces the northern ocean, and the sea which sets in on that part of the coast is tremendous. 

Rathlin is about nine miles from Ballycastle, on the Irish coast.  It is rather more than six miles long, and about one mile in average breadth, and it contains something more than two thousand plantation acres of land.  The inhabitants are employed in agriculture, fishing, and kelp-burning.  They generally speak of Ireland as a foreign kingdom — although only divided from it by nine miles of wild sea — and they have very little communion with it, except what is necessary for the small trade of the island.  The form of Rathlin has been compared — like Italy — to that of a boot, the toe pointing to the coal-works of Ballycastle, the heel — where “Bruce’s Castle” is situated — to Cantire, in Scotland, and the top to the great western ocean.  Towards the middle, which lies opposite Ballycastle, it is bent in an angle — the instep of the boot — and thus is formed “Church Bay,” the only good harbour in the island.  Sir William Petty says, that Rathlin resembles “an Irish stocking, the toe of which pointeth to the mainland.”

The island contains several small mountains, the highest of which is 447 feet above the level of the sea, the lowest something less than 300 feet, and so precipitous are the cliffs which encircle the isle, that “from the vicinity of ‘Bruce’s Castle,’ round the whole northern shore, by the Bull Point to the church in Church Bay, the lowest point is 180 feet above the level of the sea, and the mean height may be said to be 300 feet.”  The land in the valleys is rich and well cultivated, and the western end of the island is the most craggy and mountainous part, and its coast is quite destitute of harbours.  On the contrary, the soil of the instep end is poor, the coast is more open, and is well supplied with little harbours; hence the inhabitants of that part of Rathlin are fishermen, “and are accustomed to make short voyages and to barter.”  At this end of the island there is also a lake of fresh water, rather more than a mile in circumference, and 104 feet above the level of the sea.  At the opposite end there is another lake, called “Cligan,” 238 feet above the level.  In addition to these lakes, the island is well supplied with springs of fresh water — of which it contains more than thirty — the most remarkable of which is situate about a quarter of a mile north-west of “Bruce’s Castle.”  The water of this well rises and falls with the tide, although it is about 100 feet above the level of the sea.  Amongst the wild crags at the western end of the island, “a single native is known to fix his rope to a stake driven into the summit of a precipice, and from thence, alone and unassisted, to swing down the face of a rock in quest of the nests of sea-fowl.”

The inhabitants of the island have had so little intercourse with strangers, that they retain many remarkable ancient peculiarities of speech and manners, — many wild legends and isolated prejudices; and the native Irish still continues to be a common language amongst them.  With respect to the geology of the island, I glean the following particulars from the Transactions of the Irish Academy: — “From the striking similarity existing between the Isle of Rathlin and the adjoining continent, it is the general opinion that this island had, at one period, formed part of the county of Antrim, from which it has been separated by some violent convulsion of nature.”  Like the adjacent continent, its principal strata are limestone and basalt.  “Along the north-eastern coast of Ireland, for a space of at least sixty miles, these strata everywhere present themselves, — in one place the limestone rises to a considerable height above the level of the sea, and in another gives place to the basalt.  On the range of cliffs running west-ward, and forming the northern boundary of Church Bay in Rathlin, we see the limestone rising abruptly from the ocean, and forming a line of coast fantastically beautiful.”  I was very much struck by the beautiful appearance of these cliffs, as we entered the bay.  “At some period of time, Rathlin has been buried in the deep, and may have formerly united Staffa and the Giant’s Causeway.”

The basaltic pillar formation of which the Causeway is the best known example, shows itself in this island in many peculiar arrangements.  It seems that dense vapours sometimes accumulate over the waters of the channel which divides Rathlin from Ireland; land, “if the atmosphere be highly impregnated with these vapours, and dense exhalations not previously dispersed by the action of the winds or waves, or rarified by the sun, it then happens that in this vapour, as in a curtain extended along the channel for some height above the sea, the extraordinary phenomena called the Fata Morgana may be observed.”  “A belief was formerly prevalent among the inhabitants that a green island rises, every seventh year, out of the sea, between Bangore and Rathlin.  Many individuals, they say, have distinctly seen it adorned with woods and lawns, and crowded with people selling yarn, and engaged in the common occupations of a fair.  Could this have been the “Fata Morgana?”

And now, after this brief sketch of the physical features of the island, for the particulars of which I am mainly indebted to the “Transactions of the Irish Academy,” I will return to my own personal experience whilst on the island.

After a leisurely walk from the landing-place, I came, with the terrier at my heels, to the one hostelry on the island; and I found it a little range of rude, low building, standing endways by the road-side, with some rough out-housing about it for farming purposes.  The place was filled with weather-beaten islanders, who had gathered from all parts to see the visitors from Ireland, and to be present at the consecration; and, as each stranger presented himself in that rough hostelry, he was received by the company assembled there, — and especially by the landlord, — with a natural politeness, and a warmth of welcome highly characteristic of such a people in such a place.

Old Michael McOuig, the lame landlord, was unusually excited by the rare event of that day.  He seemed to give away far more drink than he sold.  He certainly did so in my case; and he would have it so.  But the time was drawing near for the consecration of the chapel, and, as I wished to see the ceremony — especially under these singular circumstances — I handed the terrier “Trick” into the care of old Michael, and when I had seen him lock it up in the stable, with many assurances that it would be quite safe there till my return, I took my way, alone, towards the chapel, which stood in a picturesque nook of the hill-side, overlooking Church Bay.


“This music crept by me upon the waters,
 Alloying both their fury and my passion
 With its sweet air: thence I have followed it,
 Or it hath drawn me rather.  But ’tis gone.
 No, it begins again.
.             .            .             .            .             .            .
 What should this music be? i‘ the air or i‘ the earth?
 It sounds no more! and sure it waits upon
 Some god o’ the isle.”


FROM the time of the Reformation until the year 1832, the Catholics of this little isle, which stands, “as Neptune’s Park, ribbed and paled in with rocks unscalable and roaring waters,” had worshipped God in a hollow on the mountain side; and the bishops of the diocese administered confirmation under the shadow of a limestone cliff.  In the year 1832, an old deserted mill was procured, and there the Holy Sacrifice was offered up until the day of which I am writing.  It seems that, for many years previous, this old mill — the dilapidated shelter of Catholic worshippers in the isle of Rathlin, — had been sinking into utter ruin, and therefore the pastor of the island, Father Michael McCartan, “girding himself resolutely to the work — by his own exertions, the sacrifices of his people, and the generosity of his friends — had built one of the most beautiful little churches to be found in the diocese of Down and Connor.

To consecrate this church, Dr. Dorrian, the bishop of the diocese, accompanied by the Very Rev. Canon Keogh, of Ballybriggan, a large number of other clergy, and some of the most respectable of the Catholic laity of the contiguous parts of Ireland,” crossed the waters on the day when it was my fortune first to visit this singular spot in their company, and, as the newspapers afterwards said, “The religious functions and the appropriate ceremonies were carried out in the most impressive and elaborate manner.  High Mass was chanted by the Reverend Felix Connolly, of Caledon, county Tyrone.  The psalms, litanies, &c., were sung in a most superior manner by the Rev. Messrs. Macgill, of Saintfield; McCartan, of Crossgar; and Stewart, of Belfast.  Canon Keogh acted as master of ceremonies, and the dedication sermon was preached by the bishop.  And it was the dedication of this little church “to the worship of God, under the invocation of Mary Immaculate,” of which I became accidentally a witness that day.  I had never seen the ceremony before, and the chance of seeing it under such singular circumstances, lent a double interest to the occasion in my mind.

The distance from Michael McOuig’s hostelry to the church was something more than a mile; and when I had seen the old man lock the stable-door upon “Trick,” I took my way thitherward, among a straggling company of islanders who were all going in the same direction.  The road wound round the head of “Church Bay,” and, as it approached the chapel, it rose steeply, affording a fine view of its craggy shores, and of the opposite coast of Ireland, where the stupendous mass of Fair Head rose sheer from the waters, almost perpendicularly, to a height of nearly six hundred feet.  I needed no guide to the church that day; there was a curious flutter of life along the whole of the road thither.  I found the church in a secluded nook, high up upon the hill-side; and I was surprised to see such a numerous gathering of hardy, weather-beaten people there, whose lives were spent in farming this singular island, and fishing in the wild waters that lash its craggy shores.  There were nearly two hundred people present — which is a large part of the entire population of the island — and, though bent age and poverty were visible here and there, amongst the number, there was nothing like tatters nor squalor to be seen.

I had bought a ticket of admission, in Ballycastle, before starting.  Delivering this at the door, I entered the church, took my seat a few minutes before the ceremony began; feeling a little awkward and out of place, on account of my ignorance of the observances of the service, which made me look singular, as well as feel so.  In addition to this, I was an entire stranger in Rathlin, and I imagined that this gave rise to curious speculations as to what brought a person wholly unknown, and a Protestant, across the water, to the consecration of the little Catholic Church in Rathlin that day.

The place was crowded when the service began; and the wrapt earnestness of that simple congregation of island-folk was very remarkable.  There was something very impressive in the whole of the service, even though it lacked the powerful aid which music lends to the ceremonials of the Catholic Church.  Perhaps the most striking part of the ceremony, to my mind, was the procession of the bishop and his clergy, in their robes, around the outside of the church, chanting.

When the consecration was over, the principal part of the congregation began to straggle off homeward, over the hill, in different directions.  A few lingered about the place, absorbed in admiration of the building, which was evidently invested with a new interest to them, after the impressive ceremonial they had just witnessed.  No inconsiderable number of the congregation, however, wended their way from the spot, straight towards the hostelry whither I was going.

It was a great day for old Michael, the landlord.  His stabling was crowded with shaggy ponies; and every room of the house swarmed with people from all parts of the island.  He was in a state of extraordinary excitement; for many old friends, from remote nooks, were there that day; and, as he went limping in and out, with the perspiration glittering on his brown face, he seized first one and then another, saying, “Come here, now!  Take a half-un wi’ me now!  Here, Jemmy Dhu M‘Curdy!  Come here, now, Jemmy Beg M‘Curdy!  Angus Roe M‘Curdy, come you!  Let’s take half-uns a-piece, now!”  There were several strangers to the island there, too, that day; and, with characteristic hospitality, the old man — indeed, everybody in the place — paid no small kindly attention; of which I came in for my share.  Michael’s wife had recently made him a present of a thumping young islander.  A few of his friends and relatives were holding the christening feast in the bedroom where she lay; and nothing would serve but I must go in, and drink to the health of his wife and child, which I did.  After this, he went with me to the stable, to let the dog out; but, to my dismay, I found that the door had been opened, and the dog was gone.  He immediately began to stump about the house in great trepidation, dispatching scouts in search of the dog; and boatmen, and fishers sallied forth; and seeing that I was a little concerned about the matter, they, one and all, assured me that the dog should not be lost.

In about half-an-hour, old Michael came in with “Trick” in his arms; and, as he set the dog down, he said, “Oh, see now, sur; if the little fellow had been left, by my soul, I would have sent it after you, rightly!  Faith, I know the man that owns it, — I know your landlord!  I knew his father, well.  He was a bonny man!  An’, by my soul, I would do anything in the wide world to plaze a son of his, — aye, faith, or a dog of his!  Give us your hand, sur!  Didn’t I tell you we’d find the dog?  Come on, here, now; an’ take a half-un wi’ me!”

It was a singular scene in the interior of that island hostelry, “with ground for the floor.”  Fish and beef hung about the chimney, drying; large hanks of home-spun yarn hung against the walls; and on a rude shelf in the corner, there was a number of home-made candles, with wicks of the pith of rushes.

As the day advanced “the fun grew fast and furious.”  In one corner a company of wild-eyed islanders were singing Gaelic songs; in another three or four fishermen were “discoorsin’ on things consarnin’ the ocean wide,” but the principal topic of conversation amongst that curious company was the visit of “the clargy,” and the consecration which had taken place that day.  As the time for our return drew near, the boatmen went out to see the state of the tide, returning soon after with the news that we should not be able to leave the island until about nine o’clock next morning; and, after I had arranged with old Michael for a bed in the house, I went out, in the cool of the evening, to visit the ruins of Bruce’s Castle, about two miles off.

Bruce’s Castle is now the principal relic of antiquity upon the isle of Rathlin.  According to tradition, this ancient fortress, so long associated with the name and fortunes of Scotland’s royal hero, was first built by the Danes, who ruled the inhabitants of the island with great tyranny, until they effected their deliverance in the following manner: — Being compelled by their fierce conquerors to furnish straw, fuel, and other necessaries for the use of the castle, they were, at last, so goaded by the cruelty of their oppressors, that they contrived to conceal in each creel, a native of the island, armed with a skein, or dagger — who, during the night, issued from their hiding-places, and killed the guard; and, having admitted the enraged inhabitants from without, they put the whole of the garrison to the sword.  And thus, according to tradition, ended the ruthless domination of the Danes in the isle of Rathlin.

On a beach near the ruin there is a remarkable natural cavern, called “Bruce’s Cave,” which oral history points out as a place of retreat used by the Scottish king.  And, in the gloomy recesses of the same cavern, in the year 1797, every male adult in Rathlin, except the parish priest and one other gentleman, took the test of a “United Irishman.”

Adjoining this cavern there is a small haven, called “Port na Sassanach;” and near the same place, a field of battle is pointed out, called “The Englishmen’s Graves.”  This battle is said to have been fought in 1551-2, when an English army landed here, and was totally routed by the McDonnell’s.  During his exile in the isle of Rathlin, Robert Bruce was accompanied by several of his principal adherents, amongst whom were Sir Robert Boyd, Sir James Douglas, commonly called “Sir James the Good,” and Angus McDonnell, sixth king of the Isles, — of whose dominion Rathlin was then reckoned a part.

“Early in the spring of 1307, Angus McDonnell returned from Rathlin to Kintire, in Scotland, to circulate a report of the death of Bruce, and also to draw secretly together a body of troops, ready to act, when occasion might require, on behalf of his illustrious friend.  Soon after that Sir James Douglas, and Sir Robert Boyd, also, took leave of Bruce, and departed for Arran, where they effected their landing in safety.  Ten days after, they were followed by Bruce, who, receiving by his spies, favourable intelligence from the mainland, landed at Turnberry, in Carrick, and, with three hundred followers, cut to pieces a body of English quartered in that neighbourhood.  However, soon after, succours arriving to his enemies, he was obliged to seek shelter in the wilds of Carrick, the patrimonial country of his family.”

Such is the story history tells of the connection of Scotland’s heroic monarch with the Isle of Rathlin, to which he fled during the civil wars which devastated that kingdom after the appointment of Baliol to the throne by Edward of England.  The ruins of the castle which bears his name, stand on the summit of a bold headland, at the extreme eastern part of the island, immediately fronting Cantire, in Scotland.  The height of the rock upon which the ruins stand is about eighty feet.  It rises perpendicularly from the water, which makes its height seem much greater; and, about fifty feet from its eastern extremity, a gloomy chasm traverses the ground, almost insulating the huge mass upon which the outer part of the fortress was situated.  Upon the rock itself all that is left of the ancient fortress now is a massive fragment of the walls, of great thickness; but, about one hundred feet on the western side of the chasm which divides the rock from the mainland of Rathlin, the remains of another part of the building are still visible, which show that the castle has been of much greater extent than the walls now standing upon the rock itself would suggest.  It is a singularly wild scene; and the mouldering walls of the fortress deepen the desolation around.  The cry of the sea-mew, the dismal croak of the cormorant, and the lonely roar of the sea in the dark chasm below the ruin, were the only sounds which broke the silence around.

The shades of night were sinking on land and sea, when, after a rugged walk, I stood upon the narrow neck which connects the rock with the mainland, gazing upon the ruined walls of the fortress which once sheltered Scotland’s famous exiled king.


“At the silence of twilight’s contemplative hour,
 I have mused in a sorrowful mood,
 On the wind-shaken weeds that embosom the bower,
 Where the home of my forefathers stood;
 All ruined and wild is their roofless abode,
 And lonely the dark raven’s sheltering tree;
 And travelled by few is the grass-covered road,
 Where the hunter of deer and the warrior trode,
 To his hills that encircle the sea.”


HERE, then, upon the summit of this savage crag, lashed by the waves of the Atlantic, stand the ruins of the ancient Danish fortress, which once sheltered Scotland’s royal hero from his enemies.  Here, in this wild nook of Rathlin’s Isle, accompanied by a few faithful friends, did the patriot monarch patiently bide his time till the cloud which lay upon his fortunes had passed away.  It is a scene of gloomy desolation now.  The raven, the cormorant, the wild sea-mew, and the roaring ocean have it all to themselves.  And there, low down by the beach, on the right hand of the ruins, is the dark cave, still associated with the name of the royal exile.

Near that cave too, is “Port na Sassanach,” — the landing-place of the English who fell beneath the swords of the McDonnells, in 1551, and were buried near the same spot, in a place still pointed out as “The grave of the English.”  There was something singularly impressive in the appearance of the scene, as I looked around from the summit of that wild rock, in the twilight.  On the east, divided from the island by the narrow channel, called “Slunk na marra,” lay the Irish shore, with the gloomy mass of “Fairhead” rising, steeply, 600 feet from the sea.  On the west, the coast of Cantire lay in sight; and the hills of Scotland loomed grandly in the twilight sky, — those blue hills towards which the Scottish king has often gazed with thoughtful eye and throbbing heart, during his exile in this lonely sea-nest.

I had found it a rough walk from old Michael’s up to “Bruce’s Castle,” though the distance was only two miles and a half.  When I came to the mountain land which leads up to the ruins, the way grew wilder at every step, and I scrambled among wandering footpaths — tangled and rocky, and sometimes scarcely perceptible to the eye — mere sheep-tracks, winding erratically about the uneven steep.

I had some difficulty in finding my way, and I made many a tedious detour.  But, as I floundered along, I chanced to spy a little farmhouse in a sheltered nook of the mountain side, and, making as straight as I could to the spot, I there inquired for the path.  The mistress of the house came to the door of her rude sheiling, — for though it was evidently a farmhouse, it was only a small, thatched building of one storey, and of the simplest construction, — she came to the door, and, pointing out the shortest route, she gave me the best directions she could, in a kind of Scottish dialect, which is the ordinary language of these islanders, except when speaking to one another, when they commonly use the Gaelic tongue.

Day was fast declining, so I lost no time in striking up the hillside again, in the direction she had indicated.  I had not gone far before I became aware of the presence of a barefooted lad, who was hovering in a playful way in the rearward of my track.  This was the farmer’s son, whom his mother had kindly sent to take care that I did not lose my way.  I called to him, and the little fellow smiled, but he still kept shyly in the rearward, yet always within sight.

I made my way up to the ruins without further guidance, and I had lingered about the spot till I had almost forgot that the lad was in the neighbourhood; and, when I turned to leave the place the shades of night had so shrouded the landscape that I was glad to be able to summon him to my assistance.  The little fellow evidently knew that this would be the case, for he came to my call at once; and though I could scarcely get an intelligible word from him, he immediately took the way before me down the hillside, which was so tortuous, so broken, and so obscured by the deepening gloom that he had to lead me by the hand.  At last we saw a glimmering light in a dark hollow below, and the lad led me by a winding footpath down into a sheltered dell, in which stood the little farmstead from which he had followed me up to the ruins.

The lad’s mother had heard our approach, and she met us at the door, kindly inviting me to enter.  The islander’s little family was all gathered about their homely hearth, upon which there was a bright turf fire, filling all the room, from the earthen floor to the ceiling, with a cheerful glow.  In front of the fire oaten cakes were reared on edge, baking; and over it, hung a large pan containing oatmeal porridge.  There was a general murmur of welcome when I entered the place; and they all made way for me to take the best seat by the fire, and not one of them would sit down till I had taken it.

The inmates consisted of the father, — a tall, gray-haired man, of hard, weather-beaten appearance; the mother, — a kindly-looking, sonsie body, about fifty years of age; the eldest son, — a square-built, dark-eyed young fellow, about twenty-five; a strapping, bare-legged lass, about eighteen — their only daughter — and the lad who had been my guide.  The mother whispered to her daughter, and then the girl brought me a bowl of new milk, which she set down upon a stool by my side.  As soon as all were comfortably seated again — except the daughter, who stood shyly in the background looking on — the mother began to stir the oatmeal porridge, stopping now and then to turn the cakes in front of the fire, meanwhile saying a few words in Gaelic, by fits, to my little bare-legged guide, who answered her timidly in the same tongue.

The furniture was of the simplest kind, but it was clean, and seemed sufficient, and quite in harmony with the general character of the place.  A rude delf-rack, well filled with the clean earthenware, occupied one side of the wall, close by the little window which lighted the room.  Beneath the rack stood a rough, unpainted, substantial deal table, upon which bowls of milk were set, ready for the supper.  Two well-worn oak chairs — which looked like heir-looms — mended and stayed, here and there, to keep them together, stood, one on each side of the fire.  There was a rude bench, about five feet in length, and three low stools, all well polished by long usage.  In one corner there was an ancient spinning-wheel; in another, a few farming tools were reared; and against the wall hung nets and other fishing tackle.

The land at this end of the island is so poor that the farmers are almost all fishermen.  Among the open rafters — which were quite black with smoke — I could see, by the fire-light, rude staves and other lumber stowed away.

After half-an-hour’s chat with the hospitable old couple, I got up to go.  The farmer’s eldest son rose from his seat also, and, after saying a few words in Gaelic to his father, he offered to accompany me as far as McOuig’s, for which I was thankful, the distance between us and the high road being still rough and almost trackless, and the night being, by this time, “as dark as a fox’s mouth,” although a patch of sky, here and there, was clear and starry.  Few words passed between us, as we went our lonely way that night, and the distant moan of the sea on Rathlin’s rocky shore came wild upon the ear.

Old Michael’s hostelry was more crowded than before I left; and, by this time, it had become a scene of most bewildering excitement.  The crews of the two boats were there; and many people from distant parts of the island had lingered amongst the strangers who had crossed the water that day; and the majority of that singular company seemed quite triumphant over the ills of life — for that night.  It was “a red-letter day” with the islanders of Rathlin.  Many of them were fishermen; and they had all, more or less of a sea-look about them.  Their hospitality to the strangers present was unbounded.  I stayed inside awhile listening to talk that was only half intelligible to me — and to sounds of revelry that “made the girdle ring,” and then, I went forth, to shake the din out of my ears, and to breathe a fresher air.

It was, now, a fine night; and the sky was cloudless.  Under the window, outside — and upon the hedge-side opposite, I found several of the islanders — for whom there was no room inside — carousing in the starlight.  Some of them were considering where they were to sleep during the night — for the house was full; and the out-houses were already partly occupied by somnolent wassailers — but most of them seemed utterly careless about their quarters, if they could only get more drink.

It was nearly midnight when old Michael showed me into the room, on the ground floor, in which he had reserved a bed for me.  This room was next the one in which the main body of the company were still lingering at their cups.  It was partly a bedroom and partly a storeroom; and it had evidently been used as a drinking-room that day.  Pots and glasses stood here and there; and rings of whisky were still visible upon the one little table.  It had a damp and dingy appearance; and the floor was the bare earth.  There were two beds in the room, ranging end to end, along one side of the walls.  In one of them, a drunken fisherman had already taken up his quarters — and was snoring with might and main.  I crept into the other bed; but, tired as I was, sleep was out of the question.  “Nature’s soft nurse” would not “weigh mine eyelids down, and steep my senses in forgetfulness;” and I lay awake through half the night, thinking over all I had seen during the day; and listening to boatmen and fishers, crooning Gaelic wails, in the adjoining room.

About two hours after I retired, the drunken fisher in the other bed was joined by another — in the same condition.  He came muttering into the room, in the dark; and, as he groped his way towards his comrade’s nest, he chanced to lay hold of the unhinged door of an old wardrobe, which came clattering to the ground, with a terrible din.  About four in the morning, when the noise in the adjoining room had died out, I heard somebody shaking at the door of that room, and beseeching old Michael to let him in.  This went on for some time; but, the houseless wretch, getting no reply to the din with which he had been “making night hideous,” he went away; and, for a little while all was still.  After this, I sank into a kind of half-conscious dose; from which, however, I was soon startled again.  The room was lighted by one window — which was opposite to my bed.  I was awakened by some one lifting up the lower half of this window, from the outside, and then, the dark figure of a man, pushing himself through, intervened between me and the dawn, which had just begun to tinge the room with a faint grey light.  “Hello!” said I; “who’s there?” and, in an instant, the figure drew back; and down went the window again—with a clash.  This, no doubt, was the same man who had been trying to get in at the front door.  After this, I slept a broken sleep, for about two hours; and then turned out — as the household were beginning to stir.  As I stood dressing myself in that rude chamber, the glimpse of the island, through the window, at sunrise, was beautiful.

The moment the house-door was opened lounging islanders began to creep out of the strange corners in which they had passed the night.  Some came from the out-houses; some from the fields; and some gathered up their limbs from wood benches, and shook themselves.  Come from where they would they all seemed ready for their “morning,” — as they call the first dram of the day.  Old Michael was early astir, and he did not seem much soberer for his night’s rest; and his first cry to the strangers in the house was, as before, “Just take a half-un wi’ me, now!”  The crew of “The Old Erin” began to muster about seven in the morning, in the room where I had slept, where we breakfasted together on tea, ship biscuits, sweet island butter, and hard boiled eggs.

When I had finished breakfast it still wanted an hour and a half to our starting-time; so I turned to look at the island.  It was a glorious morning!  Several of the Catholic clergymen, attendant on the bishop, were wandering about; and, in a quiet part of the road, I saw the bishop himself, pacing contemplatively to and fro, with an open book in his hand, apart from his clergy, — who seemed to hold themselves reverently aloof from their pastor, in his “enclosed hour.”

“Isle of beauty, fare thee well!”—BAYLEY.

OLD Michael’s hostelry had no sign or distinguishing cognizance whatever, so far as I can remember; and, indeed, it needed none, being the only place of public entertainment upon the island.  As the time of our departure was drawing near, I went into a rude kind of “bar,” from which Michael was dispensing “heather broth” to the thirsty islanders who had straggled in to get their “morning.”  They came from all sorts of nooks and corners, in and outside of the house; and some of them had a foggy look, and seemed inclined to make a second day’s holiday of it.  Michael was in the same state of whisky and good-natured glee as on the night before.  Indeed, it seemed to be a kind of half-chronic condition with him.  I asked him what I had to pay.  “Hut, tut, man,” said the hospitable old fellow, as he shook hands with me, “Hut, tut, man; never name it mair!  Bi my saul, man, but I’m right glad to see ye under the roof!  But, what the deil, ye’ve had naething!  Haud your tongue, now; an’ jist tak’ aff a roozer wi’ me, — bi’ way o’ deochen durrish!  Pay, is it?  Hut, man, alive, — what, we’re no to a bite an’ a sup!  Deil’s be in it,—an’ you a stranger, too!  Houts, — pay, — no, faith!  The best thing ye can do is jist to lave the island without sayin’ anither word about the matter,—especially to the wife, yon!  Come here, now!  Here’s wishing ye a safe passage across the channel! an’ bright good luck to ye, wherever ye go!  Give us your han’, now! and, by my saul, I don’t care how soon ye gie us anither ca’ at this poor house in the Isle of Rathlin!”

Several of the islanders present, I had met on the previous night, and, as they shook me by the hand, first one and then another pressed me to take a “half-un,” before I came away.

It was a lovely morning.  The sky was cloudless; and a refreshing sea-breeze swept across the island from the north-west.  The highway, which passes the end of the little inn, commands a fair view of a large tract of cultivated land, in the interior; and, for an hour and a half I paced to and fro, upon that elevated path, delighted with the scene, and regretting that my brief stay did not afford a wider and more delicate acquaintance with the singular “qualities of the isle,” and with the life upon it, which is so strongly imbued with the peculiarities of a strange insulation.  There were no trees visible in all the landscape; but that inland tract of the island looked beautiful in the morning sun; and, as I have said before, it reminded me of some of the level and cultivated parts of Cumberland.

And now, before I take leave of the place, I will give another glance at its general physical features, and at its traditions.

The quality of the soil, taken all together, is very good; and the crops are often above the average.  The potato grows well there; and the pasturage ground is extensive, in proportion to the area of the isle.  Whilst sailing along the base of the cliffs in Church Bay, little plots of healthy-looking potato are visible, here and there, among the masses of rock which have fallen from the precipices.  These plots of vegetable growth — relieving the wild crags with verdant beauty — are often in places which seem — to the eye of a stranger — almost inaccessible.

The climate of Rathlin is little different to that of the mainland; except that, in winter, there is less snow upon the island, and the weather is generally milder there than upon the mainland.  Fogs, however, are very prevalent in Rathlin, especially in spring and autumn; and — as is the case in “Mona, the lone where the silver mist gathers” — these fogs are sometimes so dense as to render the island completely invisible, even at a very short distance.  Hence vessels were often exposed to great danger in approaching this rocky isle, before the two lighthouses were erected upon it; and shipwrecks, from which none survived to tell the tale, frequently took place upon its wild shores.

Rathlin is rich in historic traditions — even apart from the romantic story of Bruce’s connection with the isle. To some of these traditions I have already alluded.  About the beginning of the fifth century, St. Comgall landed in Rathlin, but was seized and driven out of the island.  After him, St. Columba, the famous missionary — “after being tossed for three hours upon the whirlpool called Cluag-na-muire” — landed in Rathlin, and founded a religious house there, which flourished for nearly three centuries, in peace, until the end of the eighth century, when (as Dr. Hamilton says) “the northern storm, filling at once the whole horizon, and bursting impetuously from the ocean, overwhelmed the island, burying in blind and brutal destruction the inoffensive ministers of the Christian religion.”  In 790, the monastery, established by St. Columba, was ravaged by the Danes; and it was again ravaged and ruined by these fierce pirates in 973, when they put the Abbot to death.

In times past, the vicinity of Rathlin to Ireland rendering it an important ground of occupation for an invading army, it became the scene of fierce contention between the inhabitants of the opposite coasts of Ireland and Scotland.  The memory of a dreadful massacre, perpetrated by the Campbells, a Highland clan, is still preserved; and a place called Sloc-na-Colleach perpetuates a tradition of the destruction of all the old women on the island, by precipitation over the rocks.  Dr. Hamilton says, “The remembrance of this horrid deed remains so strongly impressed on the minds of the inhabitants, that no person of the name of Campbell is allowed to settle on the island.”  The following passage, from “The Annals of the Four Masters,” relates to the battle already mentioned, in which the English invaders, in the sixteenth century, were utterly destroyed, and who were all “in one red burial blent," at the spot still known as “The grave of the English,” near the ruins of “Bruce’s Castle:” —

“In 1551, the Lord Chief justice (Anthony Saint Leger) marched at the head of an army into Ulster, and dispatched the crews of four ships to the island of Rathlin to plunder it.  James and Colla, the two sons of MacDonnell, of Scotland, were on the island to defend it.  A battle ensued, which ended in the total defeat of the English, not one of whom survived, excepting the lieutenant who commanded them on this excursion.”

In 1558, the Scots took possession of the island, but were soon expelled, with dreadful slaughter, by the Lord Deputy Sussex, who seized upon it for the English Crown.  In 1575, General Morris landed here with a body of men from Carrickfergus, and, having killed 240 of the inhabitants, seized the Castle.

In consequence of successive barbarities committed upon the inhabitants by various savage invaders during the unsettled ages of Ireland, this island became at length totally uninhabited, in which state it is represented in a manuscript of the country so late as 1580, now in the hands of the MacDonnells; and it is further stated that some Highlanders, who fled to it for safety during that period, were forced to feed on colt’s flesh for want of other provisions.  Such, briefly told, is the wild story of Rathlin’s isle, in the days of the iron hand.

A few minutes before nine o’clock, which was the time appointed for the departure of the boats, I walked down to the little pier at the head of Church Bay, followed by my little terrier.  The passengers were nearly all mustered at the landing-place, for, I fancy, that most of them were afraid of being left upon the island.  They came trickling down to the pier in twos and threes.  The boat, containing the bishop and the principal part of the clergy, pushed off, and the Old Erin was only waiting for the return of one man, who had run back to old Michael’s for a forgotten umbrella.  Our passengers were the same as before, with the addition of two young women of the island, who were going over to Ballycastle.

Our boatmen had purchased a number of fish upon the island, and they lay in the bottom of the boat.  We were all ready for starting, except the man who had run back to the inn for his umbrella, and as soon as he came in sight, panting on his hurried way, old Archy cried out, “Now, gentlemen, we’re a little late, and the tide is running very strong.  But we’ll get across yet, wi’ the help o’ Providence!”

In two or three minutes more, the man for whom we had been waiting was seated in the stern of the boat, puffing fearfully, and wiping his moist forehead, as the Old Erin pushed off from shore.  The boatmen stretched to their oars, as if conscious there was no time to lose.  The little church and the rectory, with its garden and plantation, lessened behind us, and the beautiful crags of Church Bay glided swiftly by.  The boat containing the bishop and the principal part of the clergy had pushed off before us, and was now considerably ahead.  As we drew near the open channel, the immense force of the tide became visible to everybody in the boat, and the rowers bent to their work with a will.  “Pull now, boys!  Pull Hughie!  Pull Archy!”

We were now about four miles from the head of Church Bay, and every boats’ length brought us further into the tremendous pull of the stream.  The men were struggling with might and main.  At last, old Archy cried, “It’s no use, boys!  We may as well turn back soon as late; and far better.  We cannot do it.”  Just then, the boat ahead of us, which was better manned than ours, turned back, and making towards us they made signals, they cried out, “Turn back!  Turn back!  Make for Ushat!”  Ushat was a rude fishing port near the north-east end of the island, and much nearer the spot where we then were than the head of Church Bay was.  Our boatmen turned back at once, and, keeping in shore as much as possible to avoid the run of the stream, they struck up towards Ushat, in the teeth of the tide, and amongst masses of floating wreck and weedy sunken rocks, which increased the danger considerably.  It became necessary to keep a sharp look-out ahead.

Nothing was heard in the boat now, but the voice of the man at the bow, “Keep her off, boys!  Keep her off!  In again!  Now, pull!  Keep her off!  Keep her off — quick!  Pull now, my bonny men!  Pull for your lives, or we shall be carried out again!”  And they did pull. “Now, We have it, boys!" said old Archy, with the perspiration running down his face.  “Now we have it, — wi’ the help o’ God!  Now she goes!”  And so, by dint of great exertion, our boatmen made the little port of Ushat, at last.  Old Archy told us that we should have to stop there two hours till the tide slackened, and so we all went ashore, clambering over weed-covered rocks, from which we slipped into the water now and then.

It was a wild and barren scene.  There was nothing in sight upon the Ushat shore, but weedy sea-worn rocks, and the little bleak hills which shut out the landward scene.  But, on the opposite side of the channel, the Irish shore was in full view, in all its wild beauty; with the grand mass of Fairhead rising sheer from the waters; and the round. top of Knocklade overlooking all the landward scene. The crews and passengers of the two boats now began to squander, — some to gather limpets, and eat them; some to bathe in retired nooks amongst the rocks; others to wander about the bleak hill side. Old Archy announced to the passengers that there was a “dwell-house” a little way from the landing-place. It was the only building of the kind at Ushat; and it certainly was a poor rude hut of a place, where all we could get was a drink of water. There was a lad in the house who had a tame hawk and a sea urchin, which he wanted to sell to some of the passengers. The priest of the island, seeing the boats turn back, had walked over the hills to meet his friends again. The two hours sped by, even in that wild nook of Rathlin’s Isle, and the boats put to sea once more; the best boat, with the bishop on board, leading the way, as before.

As soon as our boat got well off the shore, the sail was hoisted, and we struck out to the north-west, so as to get back with the run of the tide, along the Irish shore, to Ballycastle.  But the sail was soon taken down again, and the boatmen had to struggle once more with the fierce tug of the tide.  The Catholic clergyman, who had so much cheered their labours with his humorous geniality, as we crossed over to the island, now began to enliven them with the same strain. “Now, my bonny men!” cried he, “come Hughie, now!  Crush her along, my lucky lads!  Switch her through it!”  Then one of the oar-pins broke, and old Hughie, half-despairing, said he shouldn’t wonder if we had to pass the night on Rathlin again, yet.  Two of the clergymen stripped their coats, and took a spell at the oar, to relieve the boatmen.  The sky became overcast, and the wind rose amongst us, and there was a terrible struggle to make a point below Ballycastle, so as to pull back to the pier, under shelter of the shore, through comparatively quiet water.

The other boat landed two hours before; and, having seen our difficulty, they came out to tow us in.  But the boatmen of “The Old Erin” had fought so near home, that they were determined to finish the trip without assistance; and we landed, all safe, at Ballycastle pier, about five o’clock in the afternoon.  I stayed in Ballycastle about three hours; after which I had a glorious ride of eighteen miles to Portrush, by the light of the moon.  And thus ended my trip to the Isle of Rathlin.




“Come unto these yellow sands,
 Then, take hands;
 Curt’sied, when you have, and kist,
 The wild waves wist."


HERE I am — a poor, city-bewildered sinner, and not wholly unconnected with publicans; here I am, in “The Isle of Saints,” at last — the “Emerald Gem,” whose brilliance gave light to all the Western world of antiquity.  I sometimes wonder what sort of place it was when it deserved the name of “The Isle of Saints;” for, — but never mind.  It is a delightful country, and I feel as if I could like to stop in it a good deal, and go away from it very little.    Oh, Erin! the green and the bland — so beautiful and so sad!

What wonder is it that thy warm-hearted children should love their own sea-beaten isle so well!  Here I am, — after the usual steam-boat and railway experiences; — wandering by the shore of the many-sounding sea, in search of a little renovation.  And, certainly, if a charming country, rich in the associations of a long and eventful history — if fresh Atlantic breezes — if twenty miles of grand fantastic sea-worn rocks and headlands, and long stretches of smooth beach, as beautiful as mottled marble — if easily accessible solitudes, where berries of the brightest red peep through verdure of the richest green — if these, with the music of the wild ocean for ever singing in the ear, and with just enough of a racy tone of bathing-place life to give a fillip to the quietness around — if these can do anything to restore the spirits of a tired citizen, “the heart that is humble,” as the song says, “may hope for it here,” — on the coast of Antrim.

But, I had better tell you, exactly, where I am, without any wearisome preamble about how I got here.  Well, then, my resting place, after the usual small perils on land, and perils on water, is the little bathing-town of Portrush, far away in what southern Irishmen sometimes call “The Black North.”  It is a very interesting spot to me — this little Portrush.  I like its remoteness and comparative quietude; I like the novelty and quaint flavour of its life during the summer season, for it hibernates in winter; I like its life; — of which there is quite as much as a body can handle and understand, without being either bewildered or swallowed up by it.

There are great differences in bathing-places; and those in which one can bathe both in saltwater and in quietness at the same time, have the greatest charm for me.  The Lancashire people seem to go to Blackpool quite as much for change of drink as for change of air.  They continue their city habits; they meet the same familiar city faces; and they devote even more time than usual to billiards and bacchanalian sacrifices with “jolly companions,” who have as much leisure as themselves; and when they return home a little more scorched by the sun and the salt sea-breeze, and a great deal more inflamed in the vitals, they wonder how it is that they find themselves rather worse than better for the change.  The fact is that Blackpool is just Manchester over again, with a little saltwater, a little sand, and a great deal of snobbishness added to it.  Blackpool is a salted epitome of Manchester; — with its best clothes and its worst manners on.  There is too much of the old hurry-scurry; too much of a weltering swarm of familiar pleasure-seekers, — all tumbling over one another in pursuit of happiness, and dragging one another into all sorts of devilment.  It is not quiet enough, — not remote enough, — not different enough in tone, — at least for anybody whose nerves need peaceful restoration.  In Portrush, a man has, at least, a chance of being as quiet as he wishes to be.  These northern Irish, too, are a staid, church-going race, endowed with many excellent solid qualities, as the state of the country shows.  They are, as an old Lancashire man might say — “A lot o’ nice level lads;” and, in spite of their famous whisky, there is less drinking amongst them, in proportion to population, than in Lancashire.

Portrush itself is a little wind-swept town, occupying a rocky nose of land, about five miles north of Coleraine.  The wild Atlantic sings to it, night and day; for, in any part of the town, you are not many yards from the sea; and, if either wind or wave be stirring, you can scarcely help both seeing it and hearing it, — aye, and feeling it too, sometimes.  It is on the high road to the Giant’s Causeway; and, therefore, it sees many strange birds of passage, from all parts of the earth.  On each side of the town there is a strand.  The “Long Strand,” on the north side of the promontory, is a smooth, curving beach, nearly two miles long; ending in great piles of limestone crag, known as “The White Rocks.”  There is a peculiar sweetness in the song of the surge along this strand.  The strand on the other side of the town is more pent-in by the rocky shore, and less frequented, but nevertheless, a pleasantly-retired wandering-ground, commanding a fine view of the wild mountains of Donegal.

The harbour looks a pretty little sea-nest, from this side, with its half-dozen craft, rocking idly in the wind. Glasgow steamers call here; and steamers from the Hebrides; and, sometimes, strange vessels from strange quarters; and then, the whole little town runs down to see them.  There is, almost always, some novel bit of excitement connected with sea-faring life going on there; and the bustle upon the little quay is of a quaint character, and easily taken in by the eye.

The promontory on which the town is situated, ends in a high ridge of rock, called “Ramore Hill.”  It is covered with green land; and it is soft, and dry, and springy to the foot.  This is the fashionable promenade of Portrush; where the curled darlings of the town air their scented locks in the sea-breeze, “when the clear cold eve’s declining;” and, as Norah meets Shelah on the street, she whispers, “Are you going to the hill this evening?”  This eminence is the best station for watching vessels entering and leaving the harbour; and it commands a fine view of the coast, from wild Innishone up to the bold bluff of Fair Head, in the far north.  A few yards from the centre of the town, there is an excellent bath-house, almost close to the sea; and, as we wander by, between eight and nine in the morning, we see a few half-dressed visitors sauntering about, waiting for their baths, and we hear the old superintendent shouting to his myrmidons, aloft, “A tepid shower of eighty-five in number one; and a cold shower in number three!  Look alive, please!”

Portrush has a little gas-works, the last building of all, before we get into the green country, northward; it seems to hang on the rest, like a drop at the nose-end of the town, on a wintry morning.  It has a dozen, or so, of street lamps, which — like the sea — are very much influenced by the state of the moon; it has, also, our public pumps, I believe—and three wells.  No doubt they will have both more light and more water as the little place grows richer, but for the present — well, neither man nor town “can whistle without top-lip.”  Portrush has a rather remarkable post-office, — a little shop, with a flower-grown rockery in front.  The place is crowded with curious nick-nacks.  There you can get any kind of toys, trinkets, lace, stationery, photographs, physio, fruit, shells, corals, boot — laces, baby linen, and Bibles, — anything, in fact, from a wheelbarrow to a penny-stamp, and change for a shilling; and a pleasant chat, too, — if you drop in at the right time, — for the quaint spinster who rules that remarkable establishment is, by far, the most interesting presence there.  She is the right woman in the right place, chatty, natty, intelligent, and obliging in the extreme, — although she can be pungent enough when occasion demands; and is not too long-tempered when stupid people annoy her during the heat of office-business.  That little post-office may well be a favourite resort of rich and poor.  By the way, — Portrush is the birth-place of the famous Dr. Adam Clarke; and the little Wesleyan Chapel, in which he preached, stands at the entrance to the town, and upon a mound close by it a stone obelisk, erected to the memory of the great man.

A Portrush Sunday has all the subdued tone of a Scottish Sabbath about it.  Everybody seems to have screwed his mouth up for the day; and hardly a soul dare show himself in the open air, without a hymn-book in his hand.  There are not even half as many dogs on the street as usual.

The town is well supplied with places of worship for the number of worshippers.  There is an Episcopalian Church and a Presbyterian Church, — rather handsome buildings for the place, — and there is the little white-washed Wesleyan Chapel; these three represent, what may be called, the staple theologies of the north.  And then, at the end of the town, there is a pretty, secluded Catholic Chapel, with its clergy-house and school-house, all neatly enclosed.  And this ends the list of spiritual provision in Portrush.

And now, turning from that to the spirituous.  There are two large inns, — one where the upper ten thousand go, — the lords, bishops, judges, and such like; the other an excellent hotel, which walks on rather shorter stilts than the first, and catches its overflow, — when there is any.  The windows of the “first” hotel are a great attraction to passers-by, after nightfall; for the full-dressed swells are then in view, lounging about the great room, in statuesque attitudes; whilst the crowd outside gaze upon them, with mouths a-gape, as if they were so many strange animals caged in a menagerie.  Of course, there are other places of refreshment, of less pretensions than these.  In fact, each of the two inlets to the town has its favourite “calling-shop.”  Folks coming from Coleraine, like to drop in at “The Captain’s;” and country people, going towards the “Causeway,” have some difficulty in getting out at the town-end without taking “a half-un” at “Ned’s.”  The popularity of these places owes a good deal to the characteristics of the men who keep them.  It is the same with “Mickey’s” whisky-store, down at the sea-ward end of the town, overlooking the harbour.  This is the favourite resort of fishermen, and “old salts,” — and fine fellows they are, with their calm, manly faces, which have confronted death and danger so habitually that it seems to have endued their demeanour with a kind of dignified meekness, which is all their own.  “Mickey” himself is a great favourite with these wanderers of the wave.  He is always ready to befriend a stranded fisher; and they never forget his kindness.  This is the place to hear any news of the sea; for there are almost always a few of these quiet-looking ploughmen of the ocean lounging about there.

There are certain public features of life, here, which must catch the eye of a stranger, they are so peculiar.  For instance, the characteristics of people who go about the streets, selling things.  The fruit trade seems to be principally in the hands of three or four men, who are perpetually stopping you on the public way, with “Dy’e require ony fine plums, the day?”  These peripatetic fruiterers seem to be the same persons from year to year, without the slightest change in their appearance.  One of them is a surly-looking fellow, who will insist upon your tasting something, which, if you decline, he stands stock-still, and glares as you walk away; as if he was inwardly resolving to have your blood the first sly opportunity that presented itself.  Each morning’s fresh fish is dispensed by bare-footed fishermen’s wives; who generally go in couples, from house to house, asking if you “require ony flat fish, or ony crabs or lobsters, the day?”  Eggs and butter are brought in by clean, timid farm-lasses, and mild-faced, fresh-looking country women; and milk comes in on carts, in long, blue-painted churns.  Now and then a quiet-looking countryman enters the town, leading a load of turf, and looking wistfully from side to side for a customer, as he wends his way slowly along.  As for the butchers, — blessing o’ their hearts, — they sell good meat; but, — beware! for if you send for a chop, they are almost sure to bring you a sheep.

There are other features of street life, too, which strike a stranger here.  Sometimes a stray piper comes into Portrush, by the “Islay” steamer, from the Hebrides; — and away he goes through the town, screaming forth wild pibrochs — savage and shrill.  A German band has been here lately too, playing — well, I only know that one of the four tunes they murdered so industriously was, “Now pray we for our country;” and it is well enough for them to pray for their country, but, — if they played for it, as they have been playing here, — they have indeed left their country for their country’s good; for such playing would ruin any country on earth!  They lingered a long while, here, turning up at every turn, in all sorts of places, and working away most industriously at the same five tunes, and cadging with a persistence worthy of the noblest cause on earth!  There is hardly a door at which they have not knocked, — hardly a window up to which they have not thrown solicitous Teutonic leers.  And then, the noise they made!  It seemed to fill the town to overflowing, with a most excruciating uproar.  Portrush could not have held a note more of such brazen discord.  The very air seemed ashamed of being a party to such an abominable riot.  The blatant janglement murdered every fine sound that was going in the little town, and then floated across the sea, dying out upon the affrighted waves, about half-way over to the Hebridean isles.

“Oh, ’twas foul!”  Since that German band was here the people of Portrush complain that all kinds of fish, endowed with musical taste, have left their shore.  But the band is gone at last; and it will be a long time before the town recovers from the throes of discordant agony in which they have left it.  These, however, are only stray waifs, — noisy pestilences gliding from place to place, and leaving a trail of pain behind them all the way.  But the stock musicians of Portrush, those who are “natives and to the manner born;” and who are known as “institutions” upon its streets, may be told upon the fingers of one hand; indeed they principally consist of three — performers, — I suppose I must call them, — two old fiddlers, and a little cracked player upon a crazy dulcimer, whose musical repertory consists chiefly of “Oh, Bob Ridley, oh!”

The two fiddlers, however, are quaintly distinct in characteristics.  The first, — begging the other’s pardon, — is a blind man, a tall, brown-faced, beery, old fellow, decently clad in dingy blue cloth, from top to toe; and, like most blind men, he goes with his face turned up to the sky, and with an unconsciously pleading look upon his countenance; yet he is a merry fellow withal.  He is occasionally led by his daughter, a clean, sweet-faced girl, about sixteen.  This man has some music in his soul; and when asked for any stupid melody of the “Champagne Charlie” kind, he begins it with a low grunt of dissatisfaction, — he hurries through it with careless fingers, — and he finishes with as short measure as possible.  But there is nothing on earth — except sixpence — pleases him better than to be asked to play some old Irish air.  Then you see the old minstrel in all his glory; as he sits tuning his instrument, with many a wailing prelude, his blind face beaming with joy, and his limbs quivering with exstatic thrill; and as the glad old man tones his strings for “Let Erin remember the days of old,” he will turn his face towards you, and, with tears in his eyes, he will say — “Oh, my big son, — but that’s a noble tune!”  The other fiddler is chiefly noticeable for his helpless age and the general plaintiveness of his condition, the inarticulate croon with which he accompanies his fiddle, — and which is so like a wail of distress; his long coat, his short trousers, his bowed back, and shrunk shanks, and his three tunes.  I have known him several years, and the poor old fellow is struggling still, — with one foot in the grave, — to wriggle a thin living out of the same three tunes; and God help him, say I!

And now, a word about beggars; and I have done for the present.  There is a great deal less mendicancy here than in some parts of Ireland; but, the other day, an old woman asked alms of me, and when I had relieved her, she burst forth, with all the passionate gratitude of her nature: — “Ah!” see now, darlin’,” said she, “see now what heaven prepares for us, an the way!  Oh, thin, your honour, God put that into your heart!  May health an’ good fortin’ attind ye all your days!  Oh, indeed, sir, I am old, an’ broken, an’ waitin’ my time, which is not long now, glory be to God!  Oh, thin, I am old, an’ ill, an’ broken to the bare bone o’ me entirely; an’ I am a poor, lone wanderer on the face o’ the ground.  Oh, I had seven childer, your honour, an’ a good man to my husband; but they are all dead — they are all dead, and laid low, long since, your honour; an’ I am left wanderin’ my lone, with nothin’ but poor neighbours, an’ the kind heart the good God an’ the blessed queen of heaven makes warm to me on my solitary way!  May the Lord reward your honour, an’ that ye may be blest with kind hearts about ye, an’ that ye may have lashins an’ lavins’ o’ the best, to your dying day!  Oh, indeed, indeed, I am old an’ broken, your honour!  If I was to find death comin’ on me, I would make for Rasharkin, the place where I was born, that I might lay me down to rest among my own people — glory be to God!  Ah, thin, — signs on, — there’s good fortin forninst ye, darlin’; and the kind heart of her ye love shall attend ye all your days!  Good luck to your honour’s four bones!  May the hand of the Lord be about ye, an’ mark ye to grace, for evermore, — wherever ye go!”

“ Sure, a man can’t be in two places at once, —barrin’ he’s a burd.”


BEFORE I attempt to describe any part of this coast, I will notice a few peculiarities of speech and manners which have interested me during my sojourn here; and, by way of introduction, I may say that the dialect of Antrim, — like the people who dwell there, — is more Scottish than Irish, although one sometimes finds it quaintly inlaid with genuine Hibernicisms.  These racy distinctions of language can hardly fail to arrest the attention of any observant stranger, wandering among scenes that are new to him.  Whilst moving about here in leisurely fashion, and in all sorts of unpremeditated directions, — chatting with whatever people fell in my way; now with weather-beaten fishers in the harbour; now amongst the fluttering life of the public street; now sauntering with some chance wayfarer along a quiet country road; now lounging by the open doors of lowly cots where poor folk nestle; now meandering through the market-place of a little rural town; wherever I have strayed, some fleeting snatch of quaint phraseology has fallen upon my ear, — hot from the heart, and with the clear ring of natural eloquence about it; some fitful burst of life-like earnestness, which has not been pared down to fit the nice narrowness of any exclusive speciality; or I have met with some racy bit of anecdote, richly redolent of the life from which it sprang.

In the first place, there is a touch of novelty in — what one may call — the weather salutations, here.  Of course, wherever people meet, the commonest topic of conversation, to begin with, is the weather.  It is a little neutral ground of talk, upon which the common kindliness of our nature can meet without fear of disturbance.  In England these weather-salutes are as frequent and as genial as anywhere in the round world; but here, in the north of Ireland, it is the form which strikes a stranger’s ear with its novel peculiarity of tone.  “That’s the darlin’ weather,” says Jemmy Morning, as he trots by, in the direction of the Causeway, at the rate of six miles an hour, tupping his head through the wind, and with the upper part of his body aslant, as if he was anxious that his hat should arrive at the place he was going to, a few minutes before his trousers.  “Varry wunny, the day,” says “Tam o’ the Aird,” as he saunters slowly along the highway, staff in hand, with his one cow at his heels, cropping the scanty herbage upon the borders of the road.  “We’ll hae a coorse nicht in the channel, the nicht,” says an old fisherman, gazing from the head of “The Shepherd’s Path,” which leads in slippery windings down the steep face of the precipice into Port Noffer.  “Saft mornin’, boys,” says “Long Dominick,” to the guides lounging about the road, on the look-out for visitors.  “Gran’ breeze for the stooks,” cries old David of Dulusk, as he peeps over the hedge at a passing acquaintance.  “Feighn day, noo,” says Andy McCurdy, whilst the rain is falling in torrents around him — and this is the one phrase he uses in relation to the weather, whatever it may be.  “There’s rain in the wind — Bush Foot is sounding,” says old Robert of the Glen-side, as he looks pensively down the vale, to where the sea is breaking in white foam upon the shore, near “Black Rock.”  And it seems that there is a certain combination of wind and tide which wakens the water into a roar at the point where the Bush empties itself into the ocean, and which is almost a sure indication of rain.  “Beautiful morning for the Causeway, — will you require a car, sur?” says a Portrush driver, jerking his thumb in the direction of the vehicle.

“The Causeway” is in every mouth in Portrush, either on one account or another; indeed, if it were not for “The Causeway,” the majority of the mouths in Portrush could not be kept going at all, unless they went away altogether.  But for “The Causeway,” Portrush would probably never have been anything more than an obscure fishing village, and the very life-current of its existence is the stream of visitors which pass through to “The Causeway,” from all parts of the world.  This pretty marine village — indeed, the whole coast of Antrim — seems to be thoroughly steeped in two peculiar elements, the wonders of “The Causeway,” and the shadowy renown of Phin McCoul, the Irish giant.  The first is a constant attraction to strangers, and a source of profitable employment to the whole country-side.

And as for Phin McCoul, — the common people here not only attribute “The Causeway” itself, but everything else that is grand, or stupendous, or powerful in nature, to that traditionary hero, who fills all the vague dawn of Irish history with a world of misty miracles. Wherever we go, — by mountain, or glen, or sea-worn crag, — we meet with the shade of the giant who used the Round Towers of Ireland as tooth-picks; and who was stepping across the sea to England, with the Isle of Man in his apron, when the strings broke, and down went “Mona the lone,” plump into the waves, where it stands now, about equi-distant between the three shores.

Whereever we wander upon this coast, we are shewn, among its fantastic rocks and wild headlands, Phin McCoul’s this and Phin McCoul’s that — his head, his chair, his spy-glass, his well, his kitchen, his loom, his organ, his grandmother, and his grave.  Phin McCoul is on every tongue, — especially when anything large needs to be expressed.  He is more remote and mythical, and he looms larger in the imaginative mind than our own Robin Hood — the liberty-loving king of merry England’s ancient green woods.  If any man here is bigger or stronger than common, the people say he is “as big as Phin McCoul,” or he is “as strong as Phin McCoul;” or, if he has a larger nose than his neighbours, he has “a nose like Phin McCoul’s.”  Indeed, all over the country we find the trail of a shadowy ancient renown, to which distance has lent a vast accumulation of imaginative enchantment, and “The Giant” and “The Giant’s Causeway” seem to tinge the whole mental air of the district.

And now I will give a few samples of the phraseology of this part of “The Green Isle;” I mean only such flying fits of speech as have accidentally met my ears, whilst roving to and fro, in a lazy way.  In the first place I find that the custom of nick-naming people, according to some remarkable feature of body or mind, is almost as common here as it is in Lancashire.  For instance, I have met with such names as “Tam Tak,”— for one who thinks it more blessed to receive than to give; “Auld Disobleege,” — for a man remarkable for disinclination to do a good turn; “Holy Andy,” — for an over-righteous man, of Pharisaic mind; “Johnny Peevish,” — for one of plaguey temper; “Billy the Geck,” — for a man given to mimicry; and “Soon Barney,” — applied to one who is usually in good time for things.

The following is a little specimen of a tippling scream between two fish-women, at the door of a Belfast spirit store: — “Och!” says a stout Amazon, snapping her fingers at a second, who sat upon an empty creel, by the doorway.  “Och, that’s talk for scutchers!  Shut yer gob, my darlin’, and don’t be makin’ a holy show o’ yersel’!  Faith, ye’re gettin’ too fat an’ too full!  Ye needna’ be stickin’ wedges o’ beef into yer face, as if ye were postin’ letters?  It’ll be a long time till ye meet with a man that’ll tak ye before the clargy!  Bad cess to ye, Norah dear!  The’re ten deevils in some folk, but there’s eleeven in you!”  “Barney,” says a carman, to his friend standing by, — “Barney; how would ye like to wed that un?”  “Wed her!” cried Barney, switching his whip at the air, “Bi my soul, I’d rather welt her!”

It seems that a common marriage portion of the country maidens in some parts of the north of Ireland, used to be “a bed, and a chest, and a wheel:” indeed it is still familiarly known in this quarter of the island, as “a County Derry Portion,” and, by the way, I met with a little anecdote, lately, relative to marriage portions, which is perhaps worth a place here: — A country farmer and his wife went to make the preliminary arrangement for the marriage of their son with the daughter of a neighbour, whom the lad had been courting.  After a good deal of higgling between the two sets of parents, the lad’s father cried, — “Well, noo; to mak a lang story short, — what’ll ye gie wi’ the lass?”  “Weil; I’ll e’en just gie her fifty pun’!” replied the girl’s father.  “Well, indeed then,” replied the other, “if that’s a’, she’ll no be ours at the money!”

The other day I heard of a young couple who had got married, and, having no house of their own to put their heads in, they were obliged to dwell with the lad’s parents until the building was ready, which was preparing to receive them.  In the meantime, children began to make their appearance; and their crying was such an evident annoyance to the old couple, that the young wife was constantly grieved thereat.  “Whisht, darlin’,” said she, to the weeping infant on her breast one day, “Whisht, darlin’; ye’ll suin be whaur ye can get greetin’ your fill, an’ naebody to hinder ye.”  “There goes poor old Molly,” said Robert o’ the Glen-side to me, one day, as he pointed to a tattered crone who was hobbling by.  “There goes poor old Molly; she’s always at the edge her foot — meaning that she was always in a needy condition.  In Lancashire they say of a man who is reduced to penury, that he has “etten his cake to th’ edge,” or, if he has been a luxurious liver, they will say of him that he has “come’d to his cake an’ milk at last.”

One day, when a knot of the Causeway guides were lounging upon the headland above Port na Gagne, in lazy chat together, one of them was trying to trace the age of a neighbour, in the following manner: — “I ken the hail lot o’ them, rightly,” said he, “an’ this is the way of it, — Alick’s the same age as Bill; and Davy’s the age o’ Bill’s mother; an’ Bill’s mother was born the year o’ the great water.”  “Well, indeed,” replied a second, “if that be sae, she maun be ane o’ auld Noah’s family.”  When speaking of a man of no endurance or of an impatient temper, the people here say that “he comes o’ a breed that arena good tholers;” or of a fool they will say, “Och, I ken him, rightly, — an’ a well-lookin’ man, tee, — but daft, daft, varra daft, fra heed ta heel!  Indeed, indeed, ye might as well ask for holy water in an Orange Lodge, as expect onything sensible fra the crayther.  But, what then, — gude guide us, — fools are no the warst kin’ o’ folk i’ the world, after a’.”

The strong flavour of Scotch which pervades the language of the common people, here, is very remarkable.  I heard a delusive, and garrulous man alluded to, the other day, as “an auld sluisterin deevil;” and a little while ago, an old Bushmills’ shopkeeper was taking the different weights of a small party of young ladies; and, after he had weighed two or three of more sylph-like proportions, he came, at last, to a magnificent damsel who drew the beam up handsomely at fifteen stone.  “By my saul,” cried the old man, “but ye’re no a mountain grazer, ony way!

During a short stay at a picturesque and hospitable farmstead in this part, I was very much interested by the free and racy snatches of humorous speech that fell from one of the maidens of the family, as she flitted to and fro about her household work — a sweet and sonsie lass, tall and straight, and as lithe as an eel, and brisk as a bee.  “Whaur-ever’s that woman gane te?” said she, as she wandered about the outhousing in search of the mistress, “Whaurever’s that woman gane te?  But, — fien’ a fears o’ her!” continued she, “she’ll be no far awa, wi’ the sair foot on her.  I’ll just e’en girn an’ bide a wee.”  “Yees are at it again, weans!” cried she, to a company of youngsters, who were jerking at play, round the peat stack.  “A-way to the field, Lizzy, or I’ll warm your lug for ye!  An’ ye hand away to the horses, Willy; an’ dinna be rinnin’ hame, an’ collougin’ wi’ yer faither, till he puts bad into your heed, — or ye’ll get the waur o’t!”  “Od’, but yon’s a quare variety!” said she, gazing after a curious figure which wandered by the gate of the yard, — “yon’s a quare variety!  Faith, there’s mony a strange crater i’ the warld, forbye a body’s sel’!”  “I doot ye’ve bin treatin’ Paddy the day, Jemmy dear,” said she to an old guide, who was returning home from the Causeway.  “I doot ye’ve bin treatin’ Paddy, the day; ye’re e’en are like twa burnt holes in a blanket!  Oh, man, but ye’ll get your hair kempt rightly, when ye win hame!” and when somebody began to tease her about a rejected lover who had crossed the sea, she cried, “Och, a fair wun te his wee boat!  There plenty a’ guid fish i’ the sea, forbye ane!  I doot ye’re varry funny, the day, guid folk; but just hae ’t e’en as ye will; things ’ll still aye be some way!

As I have said before, the very existence of Portrush depends mainly upon its being the great thoroughfare to the Giant’s Causeway; and for one car which leaves Portrush in any other direction there are a score go to “The Causeway.”  The chief reason for this is that, from Belfast to Portrush, we have the railway; beyond Portrush we have no railway.  Still, “The Causeway” is the principal thing that draws travellers to the town of Portrush, and every hour of the day, and in all weathers, two streams of cars pass and repass upon the picturesque seven miles of coast road which divide Portrush from “The Causeway.”  As we walk about the little town, too, we are constantly meeting with drivers who ask if we “require a car to the Causeway the day?”  These northern drivers lack the quick, sparkling mother-wit of the ancient Irish race; though they are not deficient of a certain dry, pawky humour, which steals out now and then in a quiet way.  There is one of them here who is known as “The Smiler.”  He is a favourite on account of his easy, obliging disposition; and, when you have paid for the car, at the end of the journey, he always “laves the rest to your honour’s generosity; an’ faith, whether it’s a sovereign or a crown — it’ll do me!”  And, by the way, an English stranger might be surprised to find that after he has paid for his car, at the rate of sixpence a mile, — which is about the usual charge, — he is liable to a claim from the driver, for what is called “whip-money,” an elastic sum, the amount of which depends upon the play of the two dispositions of the driver and the traveller.  The driver always urges this claim as being totally separate from his employer’s interest, and being “all he gets for himself.”

And now I will conclude my second wandering paper, in the words used at the Ulster christening feast, — “Here’s you in the shawl, good health! You against the wall, good health! Mrs. McFall, good health! An’ ladies an’ gentlemen all, good health!”


“Still convarsin’ and still discoorsin’
 On things consarnin the ocean wide.”


PAPA,” said a little blue-eyed fellow, daintily dressed in Knickerbocker suit, — “Papa,” said he, looking up at the gentleman who led him into the Portrush Post-office, out of the passing shower, — “Papa, does it rain salt water here?”  They entered the shop, and, as I stood in the doorway, watching the rain, I heard the little fellow twittering, as his blue eyes fell on the trinkets around him, — twittering in liquid trebles, full of pretty wonderment, like a new-fledged throstle taking its first flight into the woods.  In a few minutes the rain was over, and the strong sunshine burst forth again, flushing all the moist fields with orient splendour.  The bloomy spray, gushing over the garden wall opposite, seemed to thrill with a new delight; and every blade of grass, sprouting timidly amongst the rubbish at the wayside, had “kepped its ain drap” of pearl from the falling shower.  I sallied forth down by the manse, and out upon the Coleraine road, not thinking of where I was going.

“That’s the darlin’ mornin’,” said a Portrush driver, who stood waiting for the Belfast train.

“Beautiful I” said I.

“Lovely day for the Causeway,” continued he.

“Delightful!” said I.

“Will ye require a car, your honour?” said he, jerking his thumb over his shoulder.

“What’s the fare?”

“Fare, is it?” replied he, running to the horse’s head.  “Faith, ye know that rightly, your honour.  Get on, sur, — if ye plaze, — till I tuck the rug about ye.  Sure, ye’ll take the shore side o’ the cart.  Wait till I dry the sate, your honour.  Now, jump up, sur, — if ye plaze, — an’ away we go, like one o’clock!”

After a little higgling about the fare, we agreed, and I mounted the car.  The driver was evidently in great spirits, and, as he gathered up his reins, he began to croon to himself: —

One pleasant evening, when pinks an’ daisies closed in their bosoms the drops o’ dew,
An’ feathered warblers, of every species, together chanted their notes so true,
As I did wander in meditation, it charmed my heart for to hear them sing;
Night’s dreamy shades they were softly falling, and all the air did with music ring.
With joy transpoorted each sight I coorted, and gazing round with inspective eye,
Two youthful lovers, in conversation, all close engaged, I did espy;
Those couple spoke with such force of raison, — their sintimints they expressed so clear —
That for to hearken their conversation, my inclination was to draw near.

Then, jumping up to his seat, he gave the horse a switch, and away went the car, like a bird on wheels.  As we whisked round the corner where the little chapel stands, he glanced sea-ward at “The Ladies’ Bathing Rock,” where a crowd of fair nymphs were sporting among the waves in the smooth creek, at the foot of the rock, and within sixty yards of the Queen’s highway.  “Ah, there they are!” said he, pointing with his whip, — “There they are, — the darlins’ — dabblin’ their beautiful limbs in the say, — forninst the wide world!  Oh, bi my soul, — isn’t it provokin’, now, to see them so contagious, — an’ me compelled to lave the sight!  Oh, murder alive! — what’ll I do?  Get along out o’ that!” cried he, giving the horse another switch.  And then, as we shot ahead, he went on with his song :—

He pressed her hand, and he said, “My darlin’, tell me the raison you’ve changed your mind,
Or why this heart should be so degraded, that in my breast for my love has pined.
It’s I am slighted an’ ill requited for all the favours I did bestow;
Oh, tell me, darlin’ ! before you lave me, why you’re inclined for to trate me so.”

Says she, “Young man, — for to tell you plainly, — its to refrain you, I am inclined:
Another young man, of birth and fortune, has gained my favour an’ changed my mind.
My future welfare 1 have consulted, — on fickle footing I’ll never stand, —
Besides, my parents might be affronted to see you walking at my right hand.”

As we swept along Spring-hill, a little bright-eyed fellow, dressed in dingy black, like an ill-paid clerk, beckoned to me from the road-side.  “Are yees goin’ to the Causeway?” said he.  “Yes.”  He then asked if I would be kind enough to allow him “a sate” on the car, “the linth o’ Bushmills, — in regard o’ the lameness in his knee.”  To which I consented, and I soon found that he was a genuine Milesian, from the south of Ireland, and brimming over with racy chat.  He no sooner got settled upon the car than he began to hum a plaintive Irish air; and when I asked him the name of it, he turned round and gave me the whole history of the tune.

“D’ye like that tune, sir?” said he.  I told him that I did like it.

“Ah, well, indeed, then,” continued he, “it’s a beautiful air entirely.  Aan’ mind ye, there’s a quare story connected with that same melody.  Many’s the time I heard it.  It’s called “The Dark-haired Lady;” an’ the way it got the name is this, d’ye see.  A long time gone by, a famous fiddler wint to play at a nobleman’s castle, in county Mayo; an’, bedad, that same fiddler fell desperately in love wi’ the nobleman’s daughter, — and she with him, — in regard o’ the bewitching music he played; more bi token, he was a handsome fellow, entirely.  An’, faith, the rogue of a fiddler knew it all right well bi the language o’ the eye, d’ye see; an’, bi the same token, the lady knew it too.  So, d’ye mind, the fiddler thought that, as all her grate kinsmen were flutterin’ about the place, he would make the fiddle coort the lady, unbeknownst to them all, — barrin’ the lady herself, d’ye see.  An’ right well he knew it was able to do that same, for it was a raal beauty; an’ he was a grate player, all out.  An’, mind ye, there’s not an instrument in the wide world able to contind wi’ the fiddle, in the regard of a coortin’ tale.  Well, the bowld fiddler made an illigant song right out, — all filled wid consumin’ radiations of affectionate glory; for, mind ye, the poor fellow’s heart was nigh burstin’ wid enchantin’ bewilderment.  An’, oh, man alive, but that same love’s a rale tender thing!  Many’s the poor crayther lost their rest through it! It’s myself knows that right well; for I suffered a dale from it, now an’ agin, since I was the hoight of a trooper’s boot.

How-an’-ever, as I was telling ye, — the fiddler was a larned man, d’ye see; but, faith, it’s not to tall English he trusted to coort the lady — och, no — but he made the fiddle tell the whole story in a kind o’ conversational tune, d’ye see; an’, mind ye, the fiddle was transpoorted with the acquirement of such an occupation; an’ it spoke out the illigant pains that were brakin’ the poor fellow’s heart in such meltin’ tones, that, faith, the very strings o’ the instrument were nigh burstin’ into tears; an’, bedad, there was not one in the whole coort could stand before the strains came from the fiddle that blessed day!  It began by sayin’ as plain as words could spake, ‘Oh, what’ll I do with this heart o’ mine!  Oh, darlin’, darlin’, what’ll become o’ me!’ an’ so the whole coorse o’ the story was told bi the music, till it ended in the culmination of a transpoortin duet.  An’ that’s how the fiddler put the comether an the noble lady.  An’, at last, she caught the beautiful infection to that degree, that she and the fiddler schamed to run away with aich other across the water; an’ there they got married — to their hearts’ contint.

Well, — worse luck, — the lady’s father purshues the pair o’ them from place to place, till, at linth, he finds them collougin’ together in the hoight of domestic enchantment; an’, bad cess to me, but he imprisons the fiddler for nine year, an’ brings his daughter home again — drowned in tears, from the heart out, for the bowld fellow she was lavin’ behind.  An’, oh, man dear, — wasn’t that same fiddler a sad an’ solitary soul when the wife of his heart was taken away from him; an’ the fiddle and he moorned together many a long year for the darlin’ that had won their hearts for evermore.

At last the fiddler got relased, d’ye see; an’ he turned out into the wide world to seek the bird of his heart, — an’, faith, by this time, the poor fellow was as ragged as a Raghery colt.  How-an’-ever, he wandered to an fro with his fiddle through all the coorts o’ Europe, playin’ the tune that won the heart o’ the dark-haired lady — bi the way she might hear it, wherever she chanced to be.  An’ so the poor fiddler wandered, with a sad heart, year after year, sighin’ an’ seekin’ among strange crowds for the face he could not find.  An’ so the days wint on, d’ye see, till, at last, the lady’s father died, an’ she was left in the castle in lonely splindour, moornin’ for the poor fellow that was seekin’ her the wide world over.  At linth, at the close of one stormy day, he came, faint an’ weary, into the coort-yard o’ the castle, little dramein’ that the darlin’ of his heart was nigh; and in a despondin’ tone he struck up the beautiful tune that won his own lost Norah.  Well, bedad, who should be sittin’ at the windy but the lady herself, sighin’ an’ thinkin’ o’ the man she loved above all the world, and when she heard the music she threw up her arms with a grate cry, an’ fainted away, right out o’ the face.  An’ the fiddler an’ his lady lived in the castle, in glory an’ splindour, enjoyin’ connubial transports of affectionate regard to their dyin’ day.  An’ when they were laid at rest among the lords o’ the place, the fiddle hung agin the castle wall for many a long year; an’ oft, in the dead o’ the night, it was heard playin’ a sorrowful lamint — of its own accoord, mind ye — for thim that was gone.  But bad luck to the note the finest performer in the world could get out o’ that same fiddle, — barrin’ itself, d’ye see, — after the bowld fiddler an’ his lady died.”

We had now cleared the last house at the town-end, and were out upon the open road to the Causeway.  The landward scene was a pleasant rural tract — here, yellow stubble; there, pasture; and yonder, green crops, with whitewashed farmhouses scattered about up to the heathery ridge which closes the view.  About halfway up the verdant slope, the roofless walls of the ancient church of Ballywillan was in sight, clothed with ivy, and leaning towards their fall — the sole relic of the old town which once surrounded it.  Seaward, a low ridge of little grass-grown sand-hills hid us from the sea, and the beautiful “Long Strand” north of Portrush.

The driver, heedless of the tale of my fellow-traveller, was still crooning at his Irish song.  It seems the discussion between the lovers had gone on some time, ending in the following climax:

You speak exceedingly, but not correctly; with words supported, your cause is vain;
Had you the tongue of the Siren goddess, your exultation I would disdain.
It was your love that I did require; but since you place it on golden store,
I’ll strike my harp, an’ its tones shall murmur, “Farewell, my darlin’, for evermore.”
She seemed affected, and half distracted, and in exclamation she thus gave way: —
“Oh, my denial was but a trial! Ye gods, be witness to what I say!”
Says she, “My dear, if you don’t forgive me, and quite forget my incredulity,
All for your sake I’ll a virgin wander, while green leaves grow on the laurel tree.”

And thus ended the driver’s song, of which I only caught snatches.  About two miles beyond Portrush, the rise of the road brought us in sight of the open sea, and we had now a fine view of the wild coast in both directions.  Looking backward, we saw the tall limestone cliffs called “The White Rocks,” worn fantastically by the action of the waves; and “The Skerries,” a low ridge of rocks, here and there “with verdure clad,” and making this side of Portrush a kind of natural harbour.  The beautiful “Long Strand,” too, was partly in sight, stretching away in a curve towards the town behind us.  On one part of the smooth beach a large schooner, driven ashore by the storm, lay high and dry, where it had been lying many a month, looking dolefully out of its element.  On another part of the beach, the fluke of a rusty anchor stuck up from the sand; and, here and there, fragments of broken masts and other wreck lay half-embedded, telling silent tales of the dangers of the sea.

And from this point of view, Portrush looks very picturesque on its sea-washed promontory.  It is a pretty and a thriving town now, and brisk enough in summer-time.  But I remember old Jack M‘Connell telling me, not long ago, what the place was like half a century gone by.  “When I first came to Portrush,” said he, “more than five-an’-forty years ago, it was just a little rough village, where a few fishers liv’t, an’ naethin’ more.  There was just one little steamer — a Hielan’ boat — came in, an’ that was a’.  I had sair wark to find a lodgin’ there at first.  Where the grand hotel stands now, there was just a little wheen o’ thatched cots, so low that ye could put your hands upon the roofs o’ them.  I mind it well.  The first house I went to the windeys were a’ mendit wi’ auld hets, an’ raggit trowsers, an’ the like o’ that; an’ the woman that own’t it had a black eye — so I didn’t stop there.  Butter was sell’t just i’ the lump then — not prentit.  Whenever they began to prent the butter, it did nae mair good.”  Such was old Jack’s rough glimpse of Portrush sixty years ago.

For the next three miles the road runs near to the edge of wild clefts of rock, in the bottom of which the sea rages with such violence that, sometimes, clouds of foam fly over the highway, at a height of 400 feet.  There are two or three points at the edge of these cliffs where car-drivers are so accustomed to pull up to give travellers a chance of looking into the chasms below, that horses, used to the road, stop there of their own accord.  One of the gloomy clefts is known by the name of “The Priests’ Hole,” — and the traditions of the country give a fearful origin to the name, — which brings to mind how oft this fair province of Ulster has been flooded with the red waves of war, — how oft it has been reduced to a blood-stained wilderness, peopled only with terrible remembrances.  The stupendous sea-beaten cliffs upon this coast are worn into all sorts of fantastic shapes, and, as we ride along, the driver points them out by name.  Here one presents the striking appearance of an enormous lion couchant; and another is shown as “Shelah’s Head;” but, perhaps, the most remarkable of them all is the one known by the name of “The Giant’s Head,” — an immense sea — worn rock, the whole face of which presents a singular resemblance to a benign human countenance, flushed with humorous expression.  The driver pointed to this with especial emphasis. “An’ yon rock, your honour,” said he, “yon rock’s called the ‘Giant’s Head.’  Don’t you see the beautiful face on it?”  My fellow-traveller, who had got upon the “well” of the car, to get a sight, cried out, “Yes, begorra, — an’ there he is, sure enough — smilin’ acrass the waves!  Divil at ha’porth he cares for the stormy say!  More power t’ye, my bowld fellow!”

The road now leaves the rocky shore a little, and another mile brings us in sight of the ruined towers of Dunluce Castle, mouldering upon the summit of a lofty, sea-worn crag.












TH’ wynt blows keen through th’ shiverin’
    An th leet looks wild i th’ sky;
Come, Tet, stir up that fire; an’ draw
    That keyther gently by;
Aw’ve done my weshin’, gronny; an’
    Aw’ve tidied everything;
So neaw aw ’ll sit me deawn to sew,
    An’ hearken th’ kettle sing.

Bring in some coals; an’ shut that dur, —
    It ’s quite a wintry day;
Reitch deawn that ham: eawr Robin likes
    A relish to his tay.
Sweep th’ grate, an’ set this table eawt:
    Put th’ tay-pot upo’ th’ oon;
It’s gettin’ on for baggin’ time,
    An’ he’ll be comin’ soon.

Th’ fire bruns clear; an’ th’ heawse begins
    A-lookin’ brisk an’ breet,
As th’ time draws neer when he gets back
    Fro’ th’ teawn at th’ edge o’ neet;
It makes one hutch wi’ glee to yer
    A favourite fuut come whoam;
An’ it’s very fine to hearken, when
    One knows it ’s sure to come.

Th’ cat pricks up her ears at th’ sneck,
    Wi’ mony a leetsome toot;
An’ th’ owd arm-cheer i’ th’ corner seems
    As if it yerd his fuut;
Th’ window blinks; an’ th’ clock begins
    A-tickin’ leawd an’ fain;
An’ th’ tin things winkin’ upo’ th’ wole, —
   They groon as breet again.

Th’ kettle’s hummin’ o’er wi’ fun —
    Just look at th’ end o’ th’ speawt;
It ’s like some little sooty lad
    ’At’s set his lips to sheawt:
Th’ wayter-drops ’at fo’n fro’ th’ tap,
    Are gettin’ wick wi’ glee;
An’ yo ’re fain, gronny, too, aw know, —
    But noan as fain as me.

Keep th’ rockers gooin’ soft and slow,
    An’ shade that leet away;
Aw think this little duck ’s o’ th’ mend,
    Hoo sleeps so weel to-day;
Doze on, my darlin’; keep ’em shut, —
    Those teeny windows blue;
Good Lord! iv aught should happen thee
    What could thi mother do?

Here, gronny, put this cover on,
    An’ tuck it nicely in;
Keep th’ keyther stirrin’ gently; an’
    Make very little din.
An’ lap thoose dimpled honds away
    Fro’ th’ frosty winter air;
They lie’n a-top o’ th’ bit o’ quilt,
    Like two clock-hommers theer.

But stop; hoo’s laughin’!  Come, hie up;
    My bonny little puss!
God bless it!  Daddy’s noan far off;
    Let mammy have a buss!
He’s here!  He ’s here; Tet, bring that cheer:
    Eh, dear; these darlin’s two!
Iv it wur not for this chylt an’ him,
    What could a body do?



“The wills above be done! but I would fain die a dry death.” ―

                                                                  THE TEMPEST.

I HAVE spent many a pleasant day at the village of Bardsea, three miles south of Ulverstone.  It stands close to Conishead Park, high upon a fertile elbow of land, the base of which is washed on two sides by the waters of Morecambe Bay.  It is an old hamlet, of about fifty houses, nearly all in one wandering street, which begins at the bottom of a knoll, on the Ulverstone side, and then climbs to a point near the summit, where three roads meet, and where the houses on one side stand back a few yards, leaving an open ground, like at little market-place.

Upon the top of the knoll, a few yards east of this space, the church stands, overlooking sea and land all round.  From the centre of the village the street winds on, towards the beach.  At this end a row of neat houses stands at a right angle, upon an eastward incline, facing the sea.  The tide washes up within fifty yards of these houses at high water.  At the centre of the village, too, half a dozen pleasant cottages leave the street, and stand out, like the fin of a fish, in a quiet lane, which leads down into a little shady glen at the foot of Birkrigg.  The same lane leads, by another route, over the top of that wild hill, into the beautiful vale of Urswick.

Bardsea is a pretty, out-of-the-way place; and the country about it is very picturesque.  It is close to the sea, and commands a fine view of the bay, and of its opposite shores, for nearly forty miles.  At a mile west of the village Birkrigg rises high above green pastures and leafy dells that lap his feet in beauty.  Northward, the road to Ulverstone leads through the finest part of Conishead Park, which begins near the end of the village.  This park is one of the most charming pieces of undulant woodland scenery I ever beheld.  An old writer calls it “the Paradise of Furness.”

On the way to Ulverstone, from Burdsea, the Leven estuary shows itself in many a beautiful gleam through the trees of the park; and the fells of Cartmel are in lull view beyond.  It is one of the pleasantest, one of the quietest walks in the kingdom.

The last time I saw Bardsea it was about the middle of July.  I had gone there to spend a day or two with a friend.  There had not been a cloud on the heavens for a week; and the smell of new hay came on every sigh that stirred the leaves.  The village looked like an island of sleepy life, with a sea of greenery around it, surging up to the doors of its white houses, and flinging the spray of nature’s summer harmonies all over the place.  The songs of birds, the rustle of trees, the ripple of the brook at the foot of the meadows, and the murmur of the sea, all seem to float together through that nest of man, making it drowsy with pleasure. It was fairly lapped in soothing melody.  Every breath of air brought music on its wings; and every song was laden with sweet smells.  Nature loved the little spot, for she caressed it and croodled about it, like a mother singing lullabies to a tired child.  And Bardsea was pleased and still, as if it knew it all.  It seemed the enchanted ear of the landscape; for everywhere else, the world was alive with the jocund restlessness of the season.

My friend and wandered about from morning to night.  In the heat of the day, the white roads glared in the sun; and, in some places, the air seemed to tremble, at about a man’s height from the ground, as I have seen it tremble above a burning kiln sometimes.  But, for broad day we had the velvet glades and shady woods of Conishead to ramble in; and many a rich old lane, and some green dells, where little brooks ran whimpling their tiny undersongs, in liquid trebles, between banks of wild flowers.  Our evening walks were more delightful still; for when soft twilight came, melting the distinctions of the landscape in her dreamy loveliness, she had hardly time to draw “a thin veil o’er the the day” before sea and land began to shine again under the radiance of the moon.  Wandering among such scenes, at such a time, was enough to touch any man’s heart with gratitude for the privilege of existence in this world of ours.

My friend’s house stands upon a buttressed shelf of land, half-way up the slope which leads from the shore into Bardsea.  It is the most seaward dwelling of the place; and it is bowered about on three sides with little plots of garden, one of them kept as a playground for the children.  It commands a glorious view of the bay, from Hampsfell, all round by Arnside and Lancaster, down to Fleetwood.  Sometimes, at night, I have watched the revolutions of the Fleetwood light, from the front of the house, whilst listening to the surge of the tide along the shore, at the foot of the hill.

One day when dinner was over, we sat smoking at an open window, which looked out upon the bay.  It was about the turning of the tide, for a fisherman’s cart was coming slowly over the sands, from the nets at low water.  The day was unusually hot; but, before we had smoked long, I felt as if I couldn’t rest any longer indoors.

“Where shall we go this afternoon?” said I, knocking the ashes out of my pipe upon the outside sill.

“Well,” replied my friend, “I have been thinking that we couldn’t do better than stroll into the park a while.  What do you say?”

“Agreed,” said I.  “It ‘s a fine piece of woodland.  I daresay many a Roman soldier has been pleased with the place, as he marched through it, sixteen centuries ago.”

“Perhaps so,” said he, smiling, and taking his stick from the corner.  “Come along.”

At the garden gate we found three of his flaxen-headed children, romping with a short-legged Scotch terrier, called Trusty.  The dog’s wild eyes shone in little slits of dusky fire through the rusty thicket of gray hair which overhung; them.  Trusty was beside himself with joy when we came into the road; and he worried our shoes, and shook our trousers’ slops in a sham fury, as if they were imaginary rats; and he bounced about, and barked, till the quiet scene, from Bardsea to Birkrigg, rang with his noisy glee.  Some of the birds about us seemed to stop singing for a few seconds, and, after they had taken an admiring look sideway at the little fellow, they burst out again, louder than ever, and in more rollicking strains, heartily infected with the frisky riot of that little four-legged marlocker.

Both the dog and the children clamoured to go with us.  My friend hesitated as first one, then another, tugged at him, and said: “Pa, let me go.”  Turning to me, he scratched his head, and said: “I’ve a good mind to take Willie.”  The lad instantly gave a twirl round on one heel, and clapped his hands, and then laid hold of his father’s coat-lap, by way of clenching the bargain at once.  But just then his mother appeared at the gate, and said: “Eh, no, Willie, you’d better not go.  You’ll be so tired.  Come, stay with me.  That‘s a good boy.”  Willie let go his hold slowly, and fell back with a disappointed look.  Trusty seemed to know that there was a hitch in the matter, for he suddenly became quieter; and, going up to Willie, he licked his hands consolingly, and then sitting down beside him, he looked round from one to another, to see how the thing was to end.

“Don’t keep tea waiting for us,” said my friend; “we’ll be back in time for an early supper.”

“Very well,” replied his good-wife, “We’ll have something nice.  Don’t be late.”

The dog was now whining and wrestling in the arms of Willie, who was holding him back.  We made our bows, and bade “Good-bye” to the children and to their mother, and then turned up the road.  Before we had gone many yards she called out,—

“I say, Chris; if you go as far as Ulverstone, call at Mrs Sealle’s, and at Town and Fell’s, for some things which I ordered.  Bella Rigg can bring them down in her cart.  These children want a new skipping rope, too; and you might bring something for Willie.”

The little girls began to dance about, shaking their sunny locks, and singing, “Eh, a new skipping rope!  A new skipping rope!”  Then the youngest seized her father’s hand, and cocking up her rosy button-hole of a mouth, she said, “Pa! pa!  Lift me up!  I want to tell you somefin.”

“Well; what is it, pet?” said he, taking her in his arms.

Clipping his his neck, as far as she could, she said, “Div me a tiss, first.”  And then she whispered in his ear, “If — you’ll —buy — me —a big, doll, I’ll sing ‘Down in a low and drassy bed,’ four times, when you turn home, — now then.  Trusty eated my odder doll, when we was playin’ shop in de dardin.’  And then he had to kiss them again, and promise — I know not what.”

Once more we said “Good-bye,” and walked up towards the white village; the chime of sweet voices sinking into a silvery hum as we got farther off.  Everything in Bardsea was unusually still.  Most of the doors and windows were open; and, now and then, somebody peeped out as we passed by, and said it was “a fine day.”  Turning round to look at the sands, we saw the dumpy figure of Owd ’Manuel, the fisherman, limping up from the foot of the slope, with his coat slung upon his arm.  The old man stopped, and wiped his forehead, and gave his crutch a flourish, by way of salutation, we waved our hats, in reply, and went on.

At the centre of the village stands the comfortable inn, kept by Old Gilly, the quaint veteran who, after spending the prime of manhood in hard service among the border smugglers, has settled down to close the evening of his life in this retired nest.  Here, too, all was still, except the measured sound of a shoemaker’s hammer, ringing out from the open door of a cottage, where Cappel sat at his bench, beating time upon a leather sole, to the tune of a country song.  And, on the shady side, next door to the yard wall, which partly encloses the front of the old inn, the ruddy, snow-capped face, and burly figure of Old Tweedler was visible, as still as a statue.  He was in his shirt sleeves, leaning against the door-cheek of his little grocery shop, smoking a long pipe, and looking dreamily at the sunny road.  Tweedler needs a good deal of wakening at any time; but when he is once fairly wakened, he is a tolerable player on the clarionet, and not a very bad fiddler; and he likes to talk about his curious wanderings up and down the kingdom, with show-folk.  When the old man had found us out, and had partly succeeded in getting his heavy limbs into a mild disposition to move, he sidled forth from his little threshold, and came towards us, gurgling something from his throat that was not unlike the low growl of an old hoarse dog.  His gruff, slow-motioned voice sounded clear all round, waking the echoes of the sleepy houses, as he said, “Well, — gentlemen.  What?  Wheer are you for, — to-day?”  We told him that we were going down to the Priory, for a stroll; but we should like to call at Gilly’s first, for a few minutes, if he would go in with us.  “Well,” said he; “it’s a verra het day.  An’ I don’t mind hevin’ an odd gill.  In wi’ ye, — an’ I’ll follow, — in a minute,” and then he sidled back to his nest.

There was not a sound of life in Old Gilly’s house; but the trim cap of his kind dame was visible inside, bobbing to and fro by the window of the little bar.  Gilly, in his kind-hearted way, always calls her “Mammy.”  We looked in at the bar, and the old lady gave us a cordial welcome.  “My good-man has just gone to lie down,” said she; “but I’ll go and tell him.”  We begged that she would let him rest, and bring us three glasses of her best ale.  The sun shone in strongly at the open back door.  At the rear of the house, there is a shady verandah, and a garden in front of it.  There we sat down, looking at the bright bay.  The city of Lancaster was very distinct, on the opposite side of the water, more than twenty miles off.  In a few minutes we heard Tweedle’s cart-horse tread, as he came through the lobby, with two books in his hand.

“There,” said he, handing one of them to me; “I ’ve turned that up amang a lot o’ lummer i’ th’ house.  I warnd it’s just the thing for ye.  What the devil is ’t, think ye?  For it ’s past my skill.”

It was an old, well-thumbed, Latin Delectus, with one back off, and several leaves gone.  It was not of much use to me; but when the old man said, “Now, that’s a fine book, I’ll awarnd; an’ I’ll mak’ ye a present on’t,” I felt bound to receive it thankfully; and I did so.

“An’ this,” said he, holding up the other; “this is a book o’ sangs.  Cummerlan’ sangs.”

It was a thin volume, in papered boards, — a cheap edition of Andersor’s Ballads; printed in double column, royal octavo.

“Ay,” replied my friend; “I should like to look at that.”

“Varra well,” said Tweedler; “put it i’ your pocket. I’ll land it ye.”  And then, as if half-repenting, he continued, “But I set a deal o’ store o’ that book.  I don’t think as I could get another for ony money.”

“You shall have it back in a day or two,” said my friend.

“Oh,” replied Tweedler, “it’s all reight wi’ ye.   But I wouldn’t ha lant it onybody, mind ye.”

My friend put the book in his pocket, promising to take especial care of it; and then we drank up, and came away; and Tweedler sauntered back to lean against the door-cheek, and smoke.

It was about half-past one when we walked out at the landward end of the village.  The only person we met was a horseman, riding hastily up from the skirt of the park.  As he sped by, I recognised the tall figure and benevolent face of Dr. A—n, of Ulverstone.

Near Bardsea Hall, an old lane leads off at the right-hand of the road, down to the sea-beach, from whence there is a pleasant wall; along the shore of the Leven estuary, to a fishing village, called Sandside, and thence a good road, bewteen rich meadow lands, up into Ulverstone.  After a minute’s conversation, at the end of this lane, we agreed to go that way.  When we came out upon the shore, my friend stopped, and looked across the sands.

“Was you ever on Chapel Island?” said he, pointing towards it.

“No,” replied I; “but I should like to see that spot.  Is there any part of the old chantry left?”

“A little,” said he; “mostly incorporated with the house of a fisherman who lives on the island.  But we’ll go over to it.  There’s nice time to get across before the tide comes in.  It’s not much more than a mile.”

I was pleased with the idea of seeing this little historic island, of which I had read and heard so much: so we strode out towards it at once.  The sands between looked as level as a bowling-green, and perfectly dry; and it did not seem to me more than half the distance my friend had said.  Before we had gone many yards he began a story :—

“The last time I was on the island there were several friends — But hold! we had better take something to eat and drink.  They’ll have next to nothing there; and we shall have to stop till the next ebb.  Wait here.  I’ll run back.  I shan’t be many minutes.”  And away he went to the green lane.

There was an old black boat on the sands, close to where he had left me.  I got into it, and, pulling my hat over my eyes to shade the sun away, I lay down on my back and listened to the birds in Conishead Park.  It was something more than a quarter of an hour before he appeared at the end of the lane again, with a brown bottle in one hand, and with pockets well stored.  Without stopping an instant, he walked right out upon the sands, wiping the perspiration from his brow as he went.  Staring straight at the island, he said, “Come on.  We’ve no time to lose, now.  But we can manage it.”  I remember fancying that there was an unusual earnestness in the tone of his voice; but I did not think much more about it at the time, for the sands still seemed quite dry between us and the island; so I followed him in silence, looking round at the beautiful scene, with my mind at ease.

My friend was a tall, lithe man, in the prime of life; and a very good walker.  I had not been well for some days previous, and I began to feel that the rate he was going at was rather too much for me.  Besides, I had a pair of heavy, double-soled boots on, and my thick coat was loaded with books and papers.  But I laboured on, perspiring freely.  I thought that I could manage well enough to keep up with him for the distance we had to go.

In a few minutes we began to come to patches of wet sand, where the feet sank at every step, and our progress was slower, and a good deal more difficult.  We did not seem to get much nearer the island, though we were walking so hard.  This tried me still more; and, not seeing any need for such a desperate hurry, I said, “Don’t go so fast!”  But he kept up the pace, and, pointing to where a white sail was gliding up the other side of the island, towards Ulverstone, he said, “Come along!  The main channel’s filling!  We’ve a channel to cross on this side, yet.  D’ye see yon white line?  It’s the tide rushing in! Come on!  We can’t turn back now!”  It was only then that I began to see how we were situated; and I tramped on at his heels, through the soft wet sand, perspiring and panting, and still without seeming to get over much ground.  In a few minutes we came to a shallow channel, about eight or ten yards across.  We splashed through, without speaking.  It only took us a little above the knee; but I perceived that the water was rising rapidly.

Thinking that the danger was over, I stammered out, “Stop!  Slacken a bit!  We’re all right now!”  But the tone, as well as the words of his reply, startled me, as he shot ahead, crying, “This is not it!  This is nothing!  Come on!”  I was getting exhausted; and, when he cried out, “Double!” and broke into a run, I had not breath to spare for an answer; but I struggled on desperately.  The least false step would have brought me down; and, if I had fallen, I think that even that delay would have been more than we had to spare.

Three or four minutes brought us up to the channel he had spoken of.  It was an old bed of the river Leven.  It must have been from fifteen to twenty yards wide at that moment, and the tide was increasing it at a terrible rate.  When we got to the edge of the water, I was so done up that I panted out: “Stop!  I can’t go so fast!”  But my friend turned half round with a wild look, and almost screamed: “But you must!  It’s death!”  Then we went into the water, without any more words.  I was a little on one side of him, and about two yards in the rear.  It is a wonder to me now, how I got through that deep, strong, tidal current.  The water must have revived me a little, unconsciously to myself, at the time.  Before we had got to the middle, I saw the book of ballads which stuck up in the side pocket of my friend’s shooting coat disappearing in the water as he went deeper into the channel.  My clothes began to grow heavy, and the powerful action of the tide swayed me about so much that I could hardly keep my feet, and I expected every moment being whelmed over.  But somehow I strove on, the water deepening at every step.

A thousand thoughts crowded into my mind whilst wading that channel.  I remember distinctly the terrible stillness of the scene; the frightful calm of the blue sky; the rocky island, with its little grove of trees waving gracefully in the sunshine — all so beautiful, yet all looking down with such a majestic indifference upon us, as we wrestled for life with the rising tide.  About mid-channel, when the water was high up my breast, my friend gave a wild shout for help, and I instantly did the same.

The nearest shore of the island was not much more than forty yards off.  As my friend turned his head, I caught a glimpse of his haggard look, look, and I thought all was over. The rocks re-echoed our cries; but everything was still as death, except the little grove of trees waving in the sunshine.  There was not a living soul in sight.  My heart sank, and I remember feeling, for an instant, as if it was hardly worth while struggling any longer.  And here let me bear testimony to a brave act on the part of my friend.  In the deepest part of the channel, when the water was near the top of my shoulders, he put out his stick sideway, and said, “Get hold!”  I laid only a feeble grasp upon it, for I had enough to do to keep my feet.  When we had waded about three yards in this way, we began to see that we were ascending the opposite bank rapidly, for it was steeper than the other one.

In two minutes more we were out upon the dry sands, with our clothes clinging heavily about us, and our hearts beating wild with mingled emotions.  “Now,” said I, panting for breath, “let’s sit down a minute.”  “No, no!” replied he in a resolute tone, pushing on; “Come farther off.”  A walk of about thirty yards brought us to the foot of the rocks.  We clambered painfully up from stone to stone, till we came upon a little footpath which led through the grove and along the garden to the old fisherman’s cottage, on the north side of the island.  As we entered the grove I found that my friend had kept hold of the brown bottle all the way.  I did not notice this till we came to the first patch of grassy ground, where he flung the bottle down and walked on in silence, panting for breath.  He told me afterwards that he believed it had helped to steady him whilst coming through the channel.

The fisherman’s cottage is the only dwelling on the little island.  We found the door open and the birds were singing merrily among the green bushes about the entrance.  There was nobody in but the old fisherman’s wife, and she was deaf.  We might have shouted long enough before she could have heard us; and if she had heard, the poor old body could hardly have helped us.  When we got to the door she was busy with something at the fire, and she did not hear our approach.  But, turning round, seeing us standing there, she gazed a few seconds with a frightened look, and then lifting up both hands, cried out,

“Eh, dear o’ me, good folk?  Whatever’s to do?  Whereivver han yo cam fra?  Eh; heawiwer han yo getten ower?”

We told our tale in a few words; and then she began again:―

“Good lorjus days, childer!  What browt yo through t’ channel at sich an ill time as this?  It’s a marcy ’at yo weren’t draan’d mony a time ower!  It mud ha’ bin my awn lads!  Eh, what trouble there’d ha’ bin, for someb’dy.  What, ye’ll ha’ mothers livin’, likely; happen wives and childer? . . . Eh, dear o’ me!  Bud cum in wi’ ye!  Whativver are ye stonnin’ theer for?  um in; an get your claes off,—do!  An’ get into bed, this minute,” said she, pointing to a little, low-roofed room in the oldest part of the house.

The water from our clothes was running over the floor; but when we spoke about it in the way of apology, the old woman said, “Niwer ye mind t’ watter.  Ye’ve had watter enough for yance, I should think.  Get in theer, I tell ye; an’ tak your weet claes off.  Now, don’t stan’ gabblin; but creep into bed, like good lads; an’ I’ll bring ye some het tea to drink . . . . Eh, but ye owt to be thankful ye are where ye are! . . . Ye’d better go into that inside room.  It’ll be quieter.  Leave your claes i’ this nar room, an’ I’ll hing ’em up to dry.  An’ put some o’ thoose aad shirts on.  They’re poor, but they’re comfortable.  Now, in wi’ ye!  Ye can talk at efter . . . . Eh; the Lord help us!  It’s a grate marcy!  It’s a grate marcy!”

The old woman had four grown-up sons, labourers and fishermen; and there was plenty of working clothes belonging to them, lying about the two bedrooms.  After we had strip’d our wet things, and flung them down, one after another, with a splash, we put on a rough shirt apiece, and crept into bed.  In a few minutes she came in with a quart pitcher full of hot tea, and a cup to drink it from; and setting it down upon a chair at the bedside, she said, “Now; get that into ye; an’ hev a bit ov a sleep.”

We lay still, talking and looking about us; but we could not sleep.  The excitement we had gone through had left a band of intense pain across the lower part of my forehead, as if a hot wire was burning into it.  The walls of the room we lay in were partly those of the ancient chapel which gives its name to the island.  In fact, the little ragged weed-grown belfry still stood above our heads, almost the only relic of the ruined chantry, except the foundations, and some pieces of the old walls built up into the cottage.  This chapel was founded above five centuries ago, by the monks of Furness.  Here they prayed daily “for the safety of the souls of such as crossed the sands with the morning tide.”

The Priory of Conishead was charged with the maintenance of guides across this estuary, which is perhaps the most dangerous part of the Morecambe Sands.  Baines says of the route across these sands:

“The tract is from Holker Hall to Plumpton Hall, keeping Chapel Island a little to the left; and the mind of a visitor is filled with a mixture of awe and gratitude, when, in a short time after he has traversed this estuary, almost dry shod, he beholds the waters advancing into the and bearing stately vessels towards the harbour of Ulverstone, over the very path which he has so recently trodden.”

I can imagine how solemn the pealing of that little island chapel’s bell must have sounded upon the shores of the estuary, floating over those dangerous waters its daily warning of the uncertainty of human life.  Perhaps the bodies of drowned men might have lain where we were lying; or travellers, rescued from the tide by those ancient ministers of religion, might have listened with grateful hearts to the prayers and thanksgivings offered up in that venerable chantry.

The chastening interest of old pious usage clings to the little island sill; and it stands in the midst of the waters, preaching in mute eloquence to every thoughtful mind.  There was something in the sacred associations of the place; there was something in the mouldering remnant of the little chapel, which helped to deepen the interest of our eventful visit that day.

We could not sleep.  The sun shone in aslant at the one tiny window of our bedroom, and the birds were merrily outside.  As we lay there, thinking and talking about these things, my friend said, “I feel thankful now that I did not bring Willie with me.  If I had done so, nothing could have saved us.”  The tide had come in behind, and a minute more at the channel would have been too much.

After resting about three hours we got up, and put on some of the cast-off clothes which had been worn by the old woman’s sons whilst working in the land.  My trousers were a good deal too long, and they were so stiff with dried slutch that they almost stood up of themselves.  When they were on, I felt as if I was dressed in sheet-iron.  I never saw two stranger figures than we cut that day, as we entered the kitchen again, each amusing himself with the other’s comical appearance.

“Never ye said the old woman; “there’s naabody to see ye bud mysel; ye may think varra weel ’at ye’re alive to wear owt at all.  But sart’ny ye looken two bonny baygles!  I daat varra mich whether your awn folk would knaw ye.  It quite alters your fayturs.  I shouldn’t tak ye to be aboon ninepence to t’ shillin’, at the varra most.  As for ye,” said she, addressing myself; “ye’n na ’casion to talk; for ye’re as complate a flay-crow as iwer I set een on.”

The kitchen was cleaned up, and the things emptied from our pockets lay about.  Here books and papers were opened out to dry.  There stockings hung upon a line; and our boots were reared against the fender, and their soles turned to the fire.  On the dresser two little piles of money stood, and on a round table were the sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs which my friend had brought in his pockets.

“What are ye for wi’ this?” said the old woman, pointing to the eatables.  “One or two o’t eggs are crushed a bit, but t’ ham ’s naa warse, ’at I can see.”

“Let us taste what it is like,” said my friend.

“That ’s reight,” replied she; “an’ ye ’ll hev a cup o’ het tea to it.  I have it ready here.”

The tea was very refreshing; but we couldn’t eat much, for we had not quite recovered from the late excitement.  After a little meal, we went out to walk upon the island.  Our damp clothes were fluttering upon the green bushes about the cottage.  They were drying fast; for, though the sun was hot, a cool breeze swept over the bay from the south-west.

We wandered through the grove, and about the garden, or rather the “kail-yard,” for the chief things grown in it were potatoes, cabbages, broccoli, pot-herbs, and such like things, useful at dinner time.  There were very few flowers in it, and they were chiefly such as had to take care of themselves.  In the grove, there were little bowery nooks, and meandering footpaths, mostly worn by visitors from the neighbouring shores.

The island has been much larger than it is now.  Great quantities of limestone rock have been sold, carried to the mainland; and it seems as if this little interesting leaf of local history was fated to ultimate destruction in that way.  We walked all round it, and then we settled down upon a grassy spot, at the south-western edge, overlooking the channel we had waded through.  There was something solemn in the thought, that instead of gazing upon the beautiful bay, we might have been lying at that moment in the bed of the channel there, with the sunny waters rippling above us, or drifting out with the retiring tide to an uncrowded grave in the western sea.  The thick woods of Conishead looked beautiful on the opposite shore, with the white turrets of the Priory rising out of their embowering shades.  A little south of that the spire of Bardsea church pointed heavenward from the summit of a green hill, marking the spot where the village stood hidden from our view.  White sails were gliding to and fro upon the broad bay, like great swans with sunlit wings.  It was a beautiful scene.

We sat looking at it till we began to feel chill, and then we went back to the cottage.  About six o’clock the old fisherman returned home from Ulverstone; and, soon after, two of his sons arrived from Conishead Park, where they had been working at a deep drain.  They were tall, hardy-looking men, about middle age.  The old fisherman, who knows the soundings of the sands all round, seemed to think we had picked our way to the island as foolishly as it was possible to do.  He talked about the matter as if we had as good a knowledge of the sands as himself, and had set out with the express intention of doing a dangerous exploit.

“Now,” said he, pointing a good way north of the track we had taken, “if ye’d ha’ come o’er by theer, ye mud ha’ done it easy.  Bud, what the devil, ye took the varra warst nook o’ th’ channel.  I wonder as ye weren’t draan’d.  I’ve helped to get mony a ane aat o’ that hole, — baith deead an‘ alive.  I yence pulled a captain aat by th’ yure o’ th’ yed, as had sailed all ower th’ warld, nearly.  An’ we’d summat to do to bring him raand, an’ all.  He was that far geean. . . . Now, if ye’d ha’ getten upo’ yon bank,” continued he, “ye mud ha’ managed to ha’ studden till help had come to ye.  What, ye wadn’t ha’ bin varra mich aboon t’ middle . . . But it’s getten near law watter.  I mun be off to t’ nets.  Will ye go daan wi’ me?”

There were two sets of “stake nets” belonging to the island; one on the north end, and the other on the western side, in our own memorable channel.  The sons went to those on the north; and the old man took a stick in his hand, and a large basket on his arm, and we followed him down the rocks to the other nets.  They are great cages of strong net-work, supported by lofty poles, or stakes, from which they take their name.  They are so contrived that the fish can get into them at high water, but cannot escape with the retiring tide.  There was rather more than a foot of water at the bottom of the nets; but there was not a fish visible, till the old man stepped in; and then I saw that flukes lay thick about the bottom, half-hidden in the sand.  We waded in, and helped to pick them up, till the great basket was about half full.  He then closed the net, and came away, complaining that it was “nobbut a poor catch.”

When we got to the cottage, we put on our own clothes, which were quite dry.  And, after we had picked out two dozen of the finest flukes, which the old man strung upon a stout cord for ease of carriage, we bade adieu to the fisherman and his family, and we walked away over the sands, nearly by the way we had come to the island.

The sun had gone down behind old Birkrigg; but his westering splendour still empurpled the rugged tops of the Cartmel hills.  The woods of Conishead were darkening into shade; and the low of cattle came, mellowed by distance, from the rich pastures of Furness.  It was a lovely evening.  Instead of going up the green lane which leads to the landward end of Bardsea, we turned southward, along the shore, and took a grass-grown shady path which winds round the sea-washed base of the hill upon which the church stands, and so up into the village by a good road from the beach.  The midges were dancing their airy rounds; the throstle’s song began to ring clearer in the stilling woods; and the lone ouzel, in her leafy covert, chanted little fits of complaining melody, as if she had lost something.  There were other feathered lingerers, here and there in those twilight woods, not willing yet to go to rest, through unwearied joyfulness of heart, and still singing on, like children late at play, who have to be called in by their mothers as night comes on.

When we drew near my friend’s house, he said, “Now, we had better not mention this little affair to our people.”  But, as we sat at supper that night, I could not help feeling thankful that we were eating fish, instead of being eaten by them.




OWD Enoch o’ Dan’s laid his pipe deawn o’ th’ hob,
And his thin fingers played i’ th’ white thatch ov
            his nob;
“Aw’m gettin’ done up,” to their Betty he said;
“Dost think thae could doff mo an’ dad mo to bed?”
                                    Derry down, &c.

Then hoo geet him to bed, an’ hoo happed him up
An’ hoo said to him, “Enoch, lad, heaw doesto feel?”
“These limbs o’ mine, Betty — they’re cranky an’ sore;
It’s time to shut up when one’s getten four-score.”
                                    Derry down.

As hoo potter’t abeawt his poor winterly pate,
Th’ owd fellow looked dreawsily up at his mate;
“There ’s nought ou mo laft, Betty, — do what tho
But th’ cratchinly frame o’ what once wur a mon.”
                                    Derry down.

Then he turn’t hissel’ o’er, like a chylt tiret wi’ play,
An’ Betty crept reawnd, while he’re dozin’ away;
As his ee-lids sank deawn, th’ owd lad whisper’t, “Well
Aw think there’s a bit o’ seawnd sleep comin’ on.”
                                    Derry down.

Then hoo thought hoo’d sit by till he’d had his nap
Iv hoo’d sit theer till then, hoo ’d ha’ risen no moor;
For he cool’t eawt o’ th’ world, an’ his een lost their
As quiet as a cinder i’ th’ fireegrate at neet.
                                    Derry down.

As Betty sit rockin’ bi th’ side ov his bed,
Hoo looked neaw an’ then at owd Enoch’s white yed;
An’ hoo thought to hersel’ that hoo’d not lung to
Iv ever th’ owd prop ov her life should give way.
                                    Derry down.

Then, wond’rin’ to see him so seawnd an’ so still,
Hoo touched Enoch’s hond, an’ hoo fund it wur chill;
Says Betty, “He’s cowd; aw’ll put summat moor on!”
But o wur no use, for Owd Enoch wur gone.
                                    Derry down.

An’ when they put Enoch to bed i’ the greawnd,
A rook o’ poor neighbours stoode bare-yedded
They dropt sprigs o’ rosemary; an’ this wur their
“Th’ owd crayter’s laid by, — We may haply be th’
                                    Derry down.

So, Betty wur laft to toar on bi hersel’;
An’ heaw hoo poo’d through it no mortal can tell;
But th’ doctor dropt in to look at her one day,
When hoo’re rockin’ bi th’ side ov an odd cup o’
                                    Derry down.

“Well, Betty,” said th’ doctor, “heaw dun yo get on?
Aw’m soory to yer ’at yo’n lost yo’r owd mon.
What complaint had he, Betty?”  Says hoo, “Aw
            caun’t tell:
We ne’er had no doctor; he dee’d ov hissel’.”
                                    Derry down.

“Ay, Betty,” said th’ doctor; “there’s one thing quite
Owd age is a thing that no physic can cure.
Fate will have her way, lass, — do o that we con,—
When th’ time’s up, we’s ha’ to sign o’er an’ be
                                    Derry down.

“Both winter an’ summer th’ owd mower ’s at wark,
Sidin’ folk eawt o’ seet, both bi dayleet an’ dark;
He ’s slavin’ away while we’re snorin’ i’ bed;
An’ he ’d slash at a king, iv it coom in his yed.”
                                    Derry down.

“These sodiurs, an’ parsons, an’ maisters o’ lond,
He lays ’em i’ th’ greawnd, wi’ their meawths full o’
Rags or riches, an’ owd greasy cap or a creawn —
He serves o alike, for he switches ’em deawn.”
                                    Derry down.

“The mon that’s  larn’t up, an’ the mon that’s a foo—
It maks little odds, for the’n both ha’ to goo;
When they come’n within th’ swing ov his scythe they
            mun fo’:
Iv yo’n root amung th’ swathe, yo’n find doctors an’ o.’
                                    Derry down.



O thou who dost these pointers see,
    That show the passing hour;
Say, do I tell the time to thee,
    And tell thee nothing more?
I bid thee mark life’s little day
    With strokes duty done;
A clock may stop at any time —
    But time will travel on.

WHEN I was first bound apprentice, I was so thick-set, and of such short stature for my age, that I began to be afraid that I was doomed to be a pigmy in size; and it grieved my heart to think so. I remember how anxiously I used to compare my own stunted figure with the height of other lads younger than me; and seeing myself left so much below them, I remember how much I longed for a rise in the world.  This feeling troubled me sorely for two or three years.  It troubled me so much, indeed, that, even at church, when I heard the words, “Which of you, by taking thought, can add one cubit unto his stature?” the question touched me sometimes with the pain of a personal allusion to my own defect; and, in those days, I have many a time walked away from service on a Sunday, sighing within myself, and wondering how much a cubit was.  But I had a great deal of strong life in my little body; and, as I grew older, I took very heartily to out-door exercises, and I carefully notched the progress of my growth with a pocket-knife, against a wooden ceiling, in the office where I was an apprentice.  As time went on, my heart became gradually relieved and gay as I saw these notches rise steadily, one over the other, out of the low estate which had given me so much pain.

But, as this childish trouble died away from my mind, other ambitions awoke within me, and I began to fret at the tether of my apprenticeship, and wish for the time when I should be five feet eight, and free.  Burns’s songs were always a delight to me; but there was one of them which I thought more of then than I do now.  It was —

“Oh for ane-an’-twenty, Tam!
 An’, hey for ane-an’-twenty, Tam!
 I’d learn my kin a rattlin’ sang,
 An’ I saw ane-an’-twenty, Tarn!”

About two years before the wished-for day of my release came, I mounted a long-tailed coat, and a chimney-pot hat, and began to reckon myself among the sons of men.  My whiskers, too, (they never came to anything grand — never will) — but my whiskers began to show a light-coloured down, that pleased the young manikin very much.  I was anxious to coax that silken fluz lower down upon my smooth cheeks; but it was no use.  They never grew strong; and they would not come low down; so I gave them up at last, with many a sigh.  The dainty Ariels were timid, and did their sprouting gently. This was one of my first lessons in resignation.

I remember, too, it was about the same time that I bought my first watch.  It was a second-hand silver verge watch, with large old-fashioned numerals upon the face, and it cost twenty-one shillings.  I had a good deal ado to raise the price of it by small savings, by working over-hours, and by the sale of an old accordion and a sword-stick.  Long before I could purchase it, I had looked at it from time to time as I passed by the watchmaker’s window, which was on the way between my home and the shop where I was an apprentice.  At last I bore the prize away.  A few pence bought a steel chain; and my eldest sister gave me a little old seal, and a lucky sixpence, to wear upon the chain ― I felt for the time as if it was getting twelve o’clock with my fortunes.  A long-tailed coat; a chimney-pot hat; a watch; a mild promise of whiskers; a good constitution; and a fair chance of being five feet eight or so.  No wonder that I began to push out my shins as I went about the streets.

For some weeks after I became possessed of my watch, I took great pleasure in polishing the case, looking into the works, winding it up, and setting it right by public clocks, and by other people’s watches.  I had a trick, too, of pulling it out in public places, which commanded the range of some desired observation.  But after a year or so, the novelty wore off, and I began to take less interest in the thing.  Besides, through carelessness and inexperienced handling, I found that my watch began to swallow up a good deal of pocket-money, in new glasses, and other repairs.  I was fond of jumping, too, and other rough exercises; and through this my watch got sadly knocked about, and was a continual source of anxiety to me.  At last I got rid of it altogether.  It had never done well with me; but it went from me ― for good; and I was cured of the watch mania for a long while.  In fact, nearly twenty years passed away, during which I never owned a watch; never, indeed, very much felt the want of one.  When I look back at those years, and remember how I managed to mark the time without watch of my own, I find something instructive in the retrospect.  In a large town there are so many public clocks, and bells, and so many varied movements of public life which are governed by the progress of the hours, that there is little difficulty in the matter.  But in the country — in my lonely rambles — I learned, then, to read the march of time, “indifferently well,” in the indications of nature, as ploughmen and shepherds do.  The sights, and “shapes, and sounds, and shifting elements,” became my time-markers; and the whole world was my clock.  I can see many compensations arising from the lack of a watch with me during all that time.

And now, after so many years of sweet independence in this respect, I find myself unexpectedly the owner of a watch once more.  I became possessed of it rather curiously, too.  The way of it was this.  I was on a visit in a neighbouring town; and the afternoon, I called to pass an hour with an old friend, before returning home.  After the usual hearty salutes, we sat down in a snug back parlour, lighted our pipes, and settled into a dreamy state of repose, which was more delightful than any strained effort at entertainment.  We puffed away silently for a while; and then we asked one another questions, in a drowsy way, like two men conversing in their sleep; then we smoked on again, and looked vacantly round about the room, and into the fire.  At last I noticed that my friend began to gaze earnestly at my clothing; and knowing him to be a close observer, and a man of penetrative spirit, I felt it; though I knew very well that it was all right, for he takes a kindly interest in all I wear, or do, or say.  Well; he began to look hard at my clothing, beginning with my boots.  I didn’t care much about him examining my boots; for, as it happened, they had just been soled, and heeled, and welted afresh; with a bran new patch upon one side.  If he had seen them a week before I should have been pained, for they were in a ruinous state then; and, being rather a dandified pair originally, they looked abominable.

I think there is nothing in the world so intensely wretched in outward appearance as shabby dandyism.  Well, he began with my boots; and, after he had scrutinised them thoroughly for a minute or two, I felt, instinctively, that he was going to peruse the whole of my garments from head to foot, like a tapestried story.  And so it was.  When he had finished my boots, his eyes began to travel slowly up my leg; and, as they did so, my mind ran anxiously ahead, to see what the state of things was upon the road that his glance was coming.

“How are my trousers?" thought I.  There was no time to lose; for I felt his eye coming up my leg, as sharp as a dissecting knife.  At last, I bethought me that I had split them across one knee, about a fortnight before; and the split had only been indifferently stitched up.  “Now for it,” thought I, giving myself a sudden twitch, with the intention of throwing my other leg over that knee to hide the split.  But I was too late.  His eye had already fastened upon the place like a leech.  I saw his keen glance playing slyly about the split, and my nerves quivered in throes of silent pain all the while.  At last he lifted up his eyes, and yawned, and looking up at the ceiling, he sighed out the word “Ay,” very slowly; and then he turned aside to light his pipe at the fire again; and whilst he was lighting his pipe, I very quietly laid the sound leg of my trousers over the split knee.

Pushing the tobacco into his pipe with the haft of an old penknife, he now asked me how things were going on in town.  I pretended to be quite at ease; and I tried to answer him with the air of one who was above the necessity of such considerations.  But I knew that he only asked the question for the purpose of throwing me off my guard; and I felt sure that his eyes would return to the spot where they had left off at.  And they did so.  But he saw at once that the knee was gone; so he travelled slowly upwards, with persistent gaze.  In two or three minutes he stopped again.  It was somewhere about the third button of my waistcoat — or rather the third button hole, for the button was off.  He halted there; and his glance seemed to snuff round about the place, like a dog that thinks he has caught the scent; and I began to feel uncomfortable again; for, independent of the button being off, I had only twopence halfpenny, and a bit of black lead pencil, and an unpaid bill in my pocket; and somehow I though he was finding it all out.  So I shifted myself round, and began to hum within myself—

“Take, oh take, those eyes away!”

But it was no use.  He would do it.  And I couldn’t stand it any longer; so I determined to bolt before he got up to my shirt front, or “dickey,”—for I had a “dickey” on, and one side of it was bulging out in a disorderly way, and I durst not try to put it right for fear of drawing his attention to it.  I determined to be rid of the infliction at once, so I pretended to be in a hurry.  Knocking the ashes out of my pipe, I rose up and asked if he had a time-table.


“There ’s a train about now, I think.”

“Yes; but stop till the next.  What’s your hurry?  You’re not here every day.  Sit down and get another pipe.”

“How’s your clock?” said I, turning round and looking through the window, so as to get a sly chance of pushing my “dickey” into its place — “How’s your clock?”

“Well, it ’s about ten minutes fast.  Isn’t it, Sarah?” said he to the servant, who was coming in with some coals.

“No,” replied she.  “I put it right by th’ blacksmith, this mornin’.”

By “the blacksmith,” she meant the figure of an old man with a hammer, which struck the hours upon the bell of a public clock, a little higher up the street.

“Well,” said my friend, looking at the time-table, “in any case, you ’re too late for this train now.  Sit down a bit.  I left my watch this morning, to have a new spring put in it; but I’ll keep my eye on the clock, so that you shall be in time for the next.  Sit down, an’ let’s have a chat about old times.”

I gave a furtive glance at my “dickey,” and, seeing it was all right, I sat down again with a sigh, laying the sound leg of my trousers carefully over the split knee.  I had no sooner sat down, than he looked at my waistcoat pocket again, and said, “I say, old boy; why don’t you carry a watch?  It would be a great convenience.”

I explained to him that I had been so many years used to notice public clocks, and to marking the time by the action of nature, and by these movements of human life that are regulated by clock-work, that I felt very little need of a watch.  Besides, it was as easy to ask the time of day of people who had watches, as it would be to look at one’s own; and then, if I had a watch, I did not know whether the convenience of the thing would compensate for the anxiety and expense of it.  He listened attentively, and then, after looking into the fire musingly for a minute or two, as if he was interpreting my excuse in some way of his own, he suddenly knocked his pipe upon the top bar of the fire-grate, and said, “By Jupiter Ammon, I’ll give you one!”  My friend never swears, except by that dissolute old Greek; or, by a still more mysterious deity, whom he calls “the Living Jingo!”  Whenever he mentions either of these persons, I know that he means something strong; so, I sat still and “watched the case,” as lawyers say.

“Mary,” said he, rising, and calling to his wife, who was in another room — “Mary, where’s that old watch?”

“I have it up-stairs in an old rosewood writing-desk,” replied she.

“Just fetch it down; I want to look at it.”  He listened at the door, until he heard her footsteps going up-stairs; and then he turned to me, chuckling and rubbing his hands; and, slapping me on the ###shoulder, he said, “ Now then, old fellow, fill your pipe again! By the Living Jingo, you shall have the time o’ day in your pocket before you leave this house.” She was a good while in returning; so he shouted up the stairs, “Haven’t you found it yet, Mary?”

“Yes,” replied she, “it’s here. I’ll be down in a minute.”

I began to puff very hard at my pipe; for I was getting excited.  She came at last, and said, as she laid the watch in his hand, “I have thought or selling it many a time, for it is of no use lying yonder.”

“Ay,” replied my friend, pretending to look very hard at the works.  As long as she remained in the room, he still kept quietly saying, “Ay, ay,” as short intervals.  But when she left the room, he earnestly watched the closing door, and then, shutting the watch, he came across to me, and, laying it in my hand, he said, “There, old boy, that’s yours.  Keep it out of sight till you get out of the house.”

And I did keep it out of sight.  But I was more than ever anxious to get away by the next train, so that I could fondle it freely.  It was an old silver lever watch, without fingers.  It was silent, with a silence that had continued long; its face was dusty; and the case wore the cloudy hue of neglect.  However, I bore my prize away at last; and before the day was over I had spent eighteen-pence upon new fingers, and sixpence upon a yard-and-a-half of broad black watered silk ribbon for a guard.  Next day after I had polished the case thoroughly with whitening, I put on a clean shepherd’s plaid waistcoat, in order to show the broad black ribbon which led to my watch.  Since then, I know not how oft I have stopped to put it right by the cathedral clock; and I have found sometimes, as the Irishman did, that “the little divul had bate that big fellow by two hours in twelve.”

It is a curious thing, this old watch of mine; and I like it; there is something so human about it.  It is full of “Quips, and cranks, and wanton wiles.”  Sometimes the fingers stand still, even when the works are going on.  Even when wound up, it had a strange trick of stopping altogether for an hour or two now and then, as if smitten with a fit of idleness; and then it will set off again, of its own accord, like a living thing wakening up from sleep.  It stops oftener than it goes.  It is not so much a time-keeper as a standing joke; and looking at it from this point of view, I am very fond of this watch of mine.  Before I had it, whenever I chanced to waken in the night-time, I used to strike a light, and read myself to sleep again.  But now, when I waken in the night, I suddenly remember, “Oh, my watch!” Then I listen; and say to myself, “I believe it has stopped again!” and then, listening more attentively, and hearing its little pulse beating, I say, “No: there it goes.  Bravo!”  And I strike a light, and caress the little thing; and wind it up.  I have great fun with it, in a quiet way.  I believe, somehow, that it is getting used to me; and I shouldn’t like to part with it any mote.

There is a kind of friendship growing between us that will last until my own pulse is stopped by the finger of death.  And what is death, after all, but the stopping of life’s watch; to be wound up again by the Maker?  I should not like to lose this old watch of mine now.  It is company when I am lonely; it is diversion when I am tired; and, though it is erratic, it is amiable and undemonstrative.  I will make it famous yet, in sermon or in song.  I have begun once or twice, “O thou” — and then stopped, and tried, “When I behold”— and then I have stopped again.  But I will do it yet. If the little thing had a soul, now, I fear that it would never be saved; for, “faith without works is vain.”  But I have faith in it, though it has deceived me oft.  My quaint old monitor!  How often has it warned me, that when man goes “on tick,” it always ends in a kind of “Tic Doloreaux.”  But the hour approaches, when its tiny pulse and mine, must stand still for ever; for —

“Owd Time, — he’s a troublesome codger, —
     Keeps nudgin’ us on to decay;
 An’ whispers you’re nobbut a lodger;
     Get ready for goin’ away.”

And when “life’s fitful fever” is past, I hope they will not sell my body to the doctors; nor my watch to the jews; but bury us together and let us rest when they have done so.




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