At the end of September the black clouds hanging heavily in the sky emptied themselves daily and made our stay in that place exceedingly boring. Therefore it was most agreeable to me at the beginning of October to be moved 18 Irish miles away to Ballinrobe where the greater part of the regiment was garrisoned. The place was somewhat better.20 From here I also went on official business to Castlebar, a town situated a further 18 miles away. It is a very good place and is in fact the place where in his day the French general, Hoche,21 made the ill-fated landing.
On 9 November we received in this remote spot the sad tidings of the battle of Jena, which robbed us of the hope of soon seeing our homeland once again. It happened that there was almost continuous rain and wind here, with the result that our houses shook and even partly fell in, and many of our people came down with dysentery, of which one officer died. None of this exactly contributed to putting us in good humour.
The election of new members of parliament occurring at that time made Ballinrobe very busy owing to the many electors and voters flocking in. It also gave rise to much revelry and brawling. Every space was covered with handbills, and crowds of people carried them about the streets. On them were printed, in large letters, advertisements favouring the candidates. Each day the polling-house was full of voters, whose votes were written down and who expressed their opinions publicly. The curious were not wanting either, and this colourful exchange gave us foreigners some entertainment.
On 3 December the two newly-elected members22 were carried all around the streets on big arm-chairs among the milling and incessantly cheering crowd, into which gold and silver coins were thrown by the successful pair.
About seven Irish miles from this place are the remarkable underground lakes that
p.320are said to be connected with the Atlantic Ocean23 At two different places they become visible. With some local inhabitants I went down about 25 feet underground on a sloping path in order to see them and found the width of these streams to be between 12 and 18 feet. They flowed with many bends and, as little light came through the entrance, one could not follow them far with the eye. On their sources and outlet I could get no information.
In February 1807, in connexion with certain business, I was invited to the house of a rich landowner; but here too I found everything in the same style as had been the case hitherto in Ireland. The big country-house was dilapidated, the front steps had fallen in, the interior was rich but neglected, for example the large silk window and bed curtains were in tatters and had certainly not been dusted for many years.
As for the rest, the household furniture was of English make and the dinner table was overflowing.
At the end of the month of March the high-court judge made his ceremonial entry into Ballinrobe with various counsel.24 A trumpeter and six outriders carrying huge antique halberds rode in front of his four-horse carriage. Behind it followed likewise six halberdiers and the household servants. In front of the house intended for his reception he was received by a division of the local militia regiment which gave him a military salute. Two sentries remained behind afterwards in front of the door, and in order to avoid trouble the garrison had been strengthened. The court, which, as in England, was held in public, lasted eight days; with the difference that here the town, the judge's lodgings and even the court-house were occupied by soldiers, whilst in England everything military is removed several miles away from the place of the assizes, and even single officers were not allowed to appear there in uniform at the time. In Ireland the disturbances that had occurred seemed to make other precautions necessary. This court was the occasion for the appearance of many landowers, from whom the jurors for the criminals are chosen. The judge or the counsel proposes for each accused 24 persons, from whom he has to decide on 12 who are to give judgement on him. The judge had an elevated seat and wore a scarlet coat and a majestic white wig. On both sides stood his counsel; in front of him, on a low bench at a table, sat the clerks and finally, in front of them, on a raised position, stood the crier. In a loud voice the crier summoned the accused persons, some of whom were in confinement. According to how such a person had now made known his presence by words or by standing up, the crier touched him with a staff to identify him. Then the judge put his questions to the person, and if he found that his imprisonment so far was in proportion to the offence the person was immediately set at liberty. But if the crime was of the sort that could bring death or transportation, the jury had to pronounce the person guilty or not guilty. A juror who fails to appear without having a valid reason must pay a fine of £12 sterling. At this sitting a young man was sentenced to death and the punishment was carried out during the next few days. The proceedings were conducted partly in the Irish language.
In April of the same year we had to be ready to go to the Continent; but the truce of Tilsit prevented this likewise. Therefore I had further opportunity to get know the Irish people better.
The lower class is very hardened; with a few roast potatoes in his pocket the common Irishman walks between 50 and 80 Irish miles in a day and quenches his thirst on the way at the springs he chances upon. In the winter the children often go barefoot on the ice.
At funerals in Ireland I have often noticed that the coffin was followed by weeping women who, it was said, had to be hired for the purpose; but I could never rightly get to the truth of this assertion. It is however a fact that the relatives visit the graves of the departed for several months afterwards and roll themselves around on them in mourning.
Finally it was settled that we should leave Ireland at the beginning of June, but where we would go remained a secret to us. We suspected Sweden, because it was there that a corps of English troops and a division of the legion were garrisoned.
On 10 June we finally left lonely Ballinrobe to the sorrow, as it seemed, of the inhabitants. Beforehand we were once more entertained by the officers of the garrison; and when we marched out the last one was under arms and gave three parting cheers for us. As for the rest our march back to Dublin was by the same way as we had come.
On 18 June 1807, in the evening, I went with the last division of the regiment to the ship. The harbour was swarming with people, our musicians were playing, people were singing, and amid the repeated cheers of the onlookers we sailed out of Dublin's fine harbour. In the most splendid weather a moderate wind brought us within 36 hours into the bustling harbour of Liverpool, where we awaited further orders . . .