On 7 May we marched in eager expectation to Dunamore,7 the place appointed for our stay; but the nearer we came the more our hopes sank of finding it a better place.
The people who emerged from the low mud cabins appeared silent and stupid,8 the bogs grew larger, and even the small cars disappeared completely here. On pitiable, rough horses or asses9 led by straw-ropes hung a pair of baskets in which dung, turf and suchlike were being transported. On our arrival at our destination, after a tiring march of 18 Irish miles, we soon saw that under the fine name of the place were hidden only a score of small stone houses and mud-cabins.10 The church and church-tower seemed completely overrun with ivy. The barracks that were to accommodate us bid defiance to the entire place. We were stared at by a crowd of inquisitive ragamuffins who shyly looked us up and down and bit their nails. A big flock of crows had settled in the trees near the barracks and accompanied our entry with their croaking! Here then was not the land of the nightingales.
So the two-month march from Portsmouth to Dunamore ended with not quite the best prospects, and I believed it scarcely possible to endure a week here, but once I was used to the place I thought differently.
The climate is on the whole mild but damp. No day is cloudless. Potatoes, wheat, barley, etc., are in fact grown here, but only with toil are they wrung from the earth. There is very much poultry in this district.
The people of rank and the well-to-do of the country stay mostly in Dublin and London, especially at the present out of fear of the agitators.11 They come here, collect their rents and spend them abroad, which may contribute greatly to the poverty. Our barracks, a former country-house,12 were tolerable. Only the tables and chairs were genuine Irish, that is to say as made by a carpenter. The cabins mentioned are only from six to eight feet high and 12 feet square, built of mud and straw, or of stone without any kind of cement, and covered with sods. The rafters are drawn from the bog. Light enters those cabins through gaps left unclosed and in bad weather stopped up with straw, or through a small pane that has been fixed in.
The interior of these dwellings is very edifying. In one corner a bed of straw for humans, in another a sow with young, an ass, goats and such like, and in the third
p.318a table, chair and spinning-wheel. The family are in the habit of sitting in the middle on the floor around the turf-fire, where the husband and wife smoke their little pipe. The fourth corner contains the opening for going in and out. I admit there are also exceptions but rarely.
There are two churches in the melancholy place, one English and one catholic; but no pealing of bells and no striking of a clock. The graves in the church-yard were marked only by rolling together stones in their natural state. Should it be something special, a large piece of rock is erected, but there is no thought of inscriptions.
It is the custom in England and Ireland when natives and strangers wish to become acquainted that first the native pays a visit to the stranger. I was therefore delighted that the English minister13 and a captain14 who had his property in the vicinity and who had just returned from France visited me and thereby provided me with the opportunity for distraction in this wilderness.
On my way to the captain I observed how laboriously people here work their land. No plough, no harrow, no horse and no ox were to be seen at work. Everything is done with a wooden spade that is iron-plated only in front. People let the land lie fallow for several years and put on the heather then growing to serve as manure. The lower class of the inhabitants speak only Irish, but the upper class speak English too. Yet I could never get to see a book in the country language. Whitsun was little different from other days. I even saw people working in the fields, and on Whitmonday15 a big yarn-market16 was held. The stalls consisted either of cars on which they [sic] had brought in their produce, or of cask-hoops that were stuck into the ground and covered with linen.17 One could not stand upright in these, but here every one lay with the beloved whiskey. In the afternoon the drunks were so numerous that the justice of the peace requested us to mount guard in order to contain threatening behaviour. Some days later18 followed an even more wretched cattle-fair at which there was even greater trouble so that side-arms had to be used. On this occasion I saw how some disturbers of the peace who had been arrested so far degraded themselves as to fall on their knees before the justice and in tears beg for his indulgence. In England even the criminal facing death would not condescend to this. The Englishman steps proudly before his judge and awaits his decision with fortitude and calm. In the month of June there were in fact some fine and warm days and evenings, but nature remained desolate and silent. There was no fragrance of flowers and trees, no buzzing of insects, no nightingale's song.
Midsummer day19 was celebrated magnificently, that is to say in the middle of the place people made a fire of turf and bones that smoked and stank more than they gave out a cheerful flame. Around this fire the dear young folk danced like mad to a pitiful fiddle or bagpipe. Amidst all this wretchedness one still finds very old people, who not infrequently reach 100 years.
About eight Irish miles from Dunamore lies a somewhat better place, Tuam, to which business often took me. On the way there I saw my first plough, which however was so unwieldy that three men and a pair of wretched horses had to work hard to keep it going, since wheels were entirely lacking. Near this spot also a horse-race was taking place at which a large crowd of people was assembling; but here was seen also the boundless contrast between a few well-to-do landed proprietors and the great mass of the people. The horses however are in no way inferior as runners to the English horses, and distinguished themselves especially at jumping. Six to nine foot walls are not too high for them. Only the elegance that shows in all points at English races was lacking; also the horses were not so well-shaped as the English racers.
At the end of August the harvest began, but this business too is carried on very wretchedly. For the cutting of corn, as of grass, there is nothing but a small sickle.
The bundles were carried home on people's backs and beside the house were thrashed on a broad stone with the nearest thick stick. Cleaning was carried out by husband and wife standing in the wind and shaking the corn about in a shallow basket. A flail, instead of English threshing-machines, would be a beneficent present here.