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A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland [...] (Author: Thomas Campbell)

Letter 14


As the Rock of Cashel overlooks the town, and at the same time a great extent of country, the most fertile in the kingdom, it is no wonder that it was chosen for the residence of the kings of Munster. It has, however, lost its rank of importance among the cities, for want of a navigable river. This would have more availed it at present, than that it was once the throne of kings.

Such a tract of country as is seen from the Rock, if in England, or even under the hands of common industry, would be as beautifully rich as any in the British empire. From thence you have an extended horizon, except where the Gaultees interpose; and this long chain of lofty hills gives a most picturesque contour in many places. The interjacent grounds, fertile as avidity itself could wish, are not a dead level, but gently diversified by lively undulations.


After all, the prospect is far from being pleasant. It requires an abstraction of adventitious circumstances to perceive its natural beauty: with a total neglect of cultivation, there is scarce a tree to be seen. The country is intersected with walls of dry stone, and ditches that never have been quicked. The squire's country seat, the rich farm house, or even the warm cottage, are here looked for, but looked for in vain. If there be an habitation, it is that of the face-ground shepherd, whose sordid hovel serves but to call a deeper shade upon the gloom of depopulation. Your philanthropy would sicken at the forlorn state of this goodly tract.

In the town is a large and comfortable See-house, built within half a century. The old episcopal seat was the building you may see, on the west end of the cathedral. But this was battered in the rebellion of 1641, by Lord Inchiquin, who put all the priests to death he found in it, as they were the principal part of the garrison, which defended the fortress.

The present Archbishop has a house upon his own estate, where he lives. You


will be surprised when I tell you that there is not even a roofed church in this metropolis; the service being performed in a sorry room, where country courts are held. The choir of the cathedral was kept in repair, and used as a parish church, till within thirty years; but the situation not being accessible enough, — which, however, 20l. would have rendered so;— the roof was wantonly pulled down, an act of parliament and a grant of money being first obtained, to change the site of the cathedral, from the rock to the town. A new church of ninety feet by forty-five, was accordingly begun, and raised as high as the wall plates. But in that state it has stood for near twenty years.

You would be amazed, considering how thinly the country is inhabited, at the number of Romanists I saw on Sunday assembled together. Round the altar were several pictures, which, being at the distance of a very long nave of an old monastery, I went round to the door of one of the transepts, in order to see them more distinctly. The people made way for me, and some of them offered to conduce me to where the


quality sat; but this I declined. While I stood at the door, a woman came up, and asked for some holy water, of a man who stood at the font; he reached her some in the hollow of his hand, and with the remainder he besprinkled me. He took me, I suppose, for an heretic, and therefore was sure I stood in need of lustration. I thought it, however, time to go, lest my not joining in the ceremonies might look particular.

The priest was very decently habited, in vestments of party-coloured silk, with a large cross embroidered, on the outside a garment, which hung down behind. He muttered the service, and frequently turned round to the altar and kissed it, after having first bowed to it. On the altar burned two candles; just emblem of their superstition! The dim light of tapers held forth in the blaze of day! Yet, even here, it is possible, that God may be worshipped in spirit and in truth; for ‘he dwelleth not in temples made by hands, as if he needed any thing.’8

This argues not, however, that true religion should let her temples fall into ruin


and decay. Much, very much, depends upon a decent exterior. What else has the church of Rome to support herself upon? Even that beggarly display of outward elements, exhibited in this old abbey of Cashel, has somewhat to engage the imagination, and even to mend the heart.

It is true, that telling of beads, saying Ave marias, crossing of the breast and forehead, being sprinkled with salt and water, and abstaining from flesh and labour, upon certain days, are as indefensible on the spiritual principles of the Gospel, as on the ground of philosophy. But I ask, where is the majority of any denomination of Christians, that can distinguish the letter from the spirit of the gospel? What multitude is philosophical? What vulgar is rational? The bulk of all persuasions believe they know not what, and practise they know not why.

One of the causes, assigned by Spencer, for the obstruction of due reformation in Ireland, is the neglect of the churches; which, he complains, ‘lie for the most part even with the ground; and of those lately repaired some are so unhandsomely patched,


and thatched, that men do even shun the places for the uncomeliness thereof.’

After quitting the abbey, I went to the court-leet room to hear, and, I own, to see the service of God performed, according to the usage of the church of England. And there I found a thin congregation, composed of some well-dressed women, some half-dozen boys, and perhaps half a score of foot soldiers. For there is a school and a barrack in the town.

How differently is the state of the diocese of Armagh represented? It is said, that the archbishop of that see has not only decorated his cathedral, given it an organ, and fixed a choir there, but that he has built one of the best houses in the kingdom, a real palace, suited to his elevated rank.

It was originally intended that bishops should reside in cities. Lord Coke is of opinion that the very residence of a bishop constitutes a city. His Grace therefore, with ideas truly episcopal, would have Armagh a city not only of courtesy but in reality; and to effect it, he makes it a condition with his tenants, that they shall all build good houses, and slate them. Inventa


lateritia, marmorea linquenda. Nor has he stopped here. He, at his own expence, has built and endowed a sumptuous diocesan library; and by his influence and contribution he has erected a magnificent hospital, a college, and even a barrack. His clergy are all following his steps; and new houses, new churches, and spired steeples are everyday rising through every quarter of his diocese.

Dr. Garnet, bishop of Clogher, had been long pursuing the same plan. He has improved his cathedral and palace, built churches where they have been wanting, and scarce a parish in his diocese is without a good new parsonage-house.

Still farther north, Hervey, brother to Lord Bristol, is following their examples. And, all together, they are rendering Ulster, the most mountainous and barren quarter of the kingdom, as eminently superior to the other provinces, in the ecclesiastical department, as it had been before in the civil.

But you must be tired with a subject which cannot appear at a distance, of such importance, as to one on the spot.

Good night.