Charlotte Grace O'Brien.

Charlotte Grace O'Brien; selections from her writings and correspondence online

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Toss them back and run for more,
Shouting round your endless store.
Spring, her hands so full, had found,
That she dropped you all around ;
Tossed you down amidst the cold,
On the hard and parched mould ;
But we love you all the same,
Love your strange child-given name.
Welcome, darling golden lilies,
Summer-scented daffodillies.

March, 1898.



"The spacious Shenan spreading like a sea."

Edmund Spenser.

WHEN I walk here along by the river in the midst of
this glory of May, I say to myself " What infinite beauty
must this world show to those who have entered the
' Beatific vision ' and can embrace its varied loveliness
in one human consciousness." It is a splendid conception
at the least to imagine that through perfect and intimate
union with God the knowledge and the vision of God
may be shared by the human spirit. Blanco White,
in a very fine sonnet on the revelation darkness brings
us of the infinite abyss of stars, says :

u If light can thus conceal, wherefore not life ? "

The daily aspect of things is, in a sense, also a conceal-
ment. Men come and go by this great river (too
few of them indeed), and the revelation of its beauty
is not made to them fully, often not at all ; but let one
live by it and it is " the most beautiful place in the
world." A friend quoted to me the other day
" Ad ogni uccello suo nido e bello." Even so, to each
of us comes the realisation of the hidden beauty that
lies all round.

But to-night it was no hidden beauty. I went down
by the river in the evening. It was full, the tide just
past the turn, and sweeping down the great mass of
water at an extraordinary pace, and yet, though the
whole river was swinging along at many miles an hour,

The River Shannon

the surface was a marvellous mirror. The glowing
masses of furze on the island, a quarter mile away, were
so near and distinct in the wave one could almost stretch
out a hand to gather them. Every cloud and every
shade of light and colour in the sky were again in
the river, but far more intense. At my feet, and twenty
yards down and across the channel, was a dense black
cloud reflected ; this formed an unbroken mass of shadow
in front. Its crenelated edge cut sharp against the
reflection of silver, blue, grey and intense white light
stretching far away westward. I stood, as the old books
used to say, " entranced." And still the river swept down,
and still the furze and the wonderful green and the dark
cloud bar were, as it were, under my hand, and the glorious
"gates of the Shannon," as the Elizabethans called this
Foynes, were opened to heaven's light beyond my touch.

We, thy children, love thee, noble river ;

For us thy tides flow ever ;

For us o'er all thy solitudes

Eternal beauty broods.

For us thy faint, 'pale distances extend

With the far heavens to blend.

Oh, river ! river ! Home of the wild cloudland,
Home of the restful woodland ;
We ask not beauty from thee being ever
Our own eternal river.

We know the secret of thy tides, we know
The swell, the fall, the pantings of thy bosom ;
Thy -passions and thy restings and thy strife
Even as the weed tossed idly on the flow ;
Even as the flowers that on thy marges blossom,
We are fed from thee and nourished from thy life.

May, 1898.



IT remains throughout one's whole life a beautiful
thing to have been born and reared in a rich pastoral
country. Images of beauty lie hidden in the mind ;
sweet scents and homely sounds return even to the
dulled senses of after life. Deafness itself, even, does
not wholly separate one from a consciousness of those
simple sounds to which one has been, as it were, born.
The imagination has so strong a hold it gives hearing to
the brain even when the ear is useless. I am deaf, I
know, but the great sweep of the scythe through falling
grass repeats its rhythm of sound to me still. This is
individual, but to all, I think, a richer and fuller enjoy-
ment of the mere earth surface must accompany the
familiarity of childhood with every sight and sound of
the sweet brown clay and its produce. For one thing,
we country-bred folk understand it all so much better
than those to whom the multitudinous growth and
leafage is all one . in meaning, like the surface of a

I recall from the early days of my own life (I can
remember just after the great famine) the farm life in
the cottages round my home. I was then a very indepen-
dent little fair-haired mortal, and was very much given
to trotting off through the fields quite alone to my farm
friends. Well, they did welcome me ! The bowls of
cream and solid sour milk, which I liked so well, that I
got through were surprising. There was the dark but


Pastoral Memories

clean dairy, the large, dark, thatched kitchen, with the
old palsied mother in the corner, and two or three fine,
handsome, buxom girls. There was a big spinning
wheel, and many a time I tangled and broke the woollen
thread. But they had patience. Everything I might
do they had patience to suffer. Time was no great
value, and the skein was easily joined by the skilled hand
of the spinner. But even to my child eyes a tragedy
was wrought into the spinning and the bending of that
woman's hands about the wool. Her daughter had run
away with a soldier. Though, I think, they married,
the prejudice against soldiers was then very strong, and
it simply broke her mother's heart. Her face has remained
with me throughout life a revelation of the pain of a
mother's love ; a thing beautiful and terrible.

But the shadow of the flowering limes was all over,
and hanging in the branches thereof I seem to see a
dainty snow-white cloth full of cream slowly dripping
away its superfluous moisture, slowly hardening into the
delicious solidified happiness called a cream cheese.
Why do we not have such cream cheeses now ? Ivory
white, exquisite in texture, delicately suggestive of all
green fresh things beautiful to look at and perfect to
the taste. It seems to me we lived on cream cheese
in old times ; now they are unheard of.

What is worthy to be spoken of now after them ?
One little tender remembrance of a long, thin young
man called Dan, holding whose hand I used to toddle
round after the cows and learn to milk. I loved him
sincerely, and respected him deeply, for why ? Because
a rumour was afloat true or false, I know not that
Dan was in with the White Boys ! What more was
wanted to make him a hero, when he was so kind and
affable as to teach me to milk ? Farewell, Dan ; fare-
well, the heaps and mountains of blazing hot potatoes,


Pastoral Memories

butter and eggs, and sour milk ! How despicable were
beef and mutton, and the civilised table cloth after ye !

Have you seen, have you seen in the grey and misty morning*

When the golden sun is up and peeping o'er the lea,
When the thrushes and the larks without a note of warning
Break into a rush of singing, fresh and wild and free
Have you seen the farmer treading through the nodding

Or seen him with his cattle when the girls have come

to milk

Patting their moist heaving sides, and joking with the lasses,
While pressing to his heart of hearts his daughter's

head of silk ?

And oh ! but there is joy in the brightness of the earth,
Oh, but God has blessed its goodness and its mirth !

June. 1898.

I 99


WE started, with nothing arranged, as I intended to
slip into the train at Kingsbridge in the morning, and
let Dan go home alone, but fate meant otherwise. It
was late, it was dark, it was raining ; our destination was
an unknown house, and I was dead tired and burdened
with odds and ends innumerable, but when I found the
phaeton so snug, my dear Gem on the tramp, and the
Liffey Valley revealing its beauty from step to step,
the tramp spirit took hold, and I felt I must go on.
As compared with America, Ireland is so wonderfully
varied. Look at that lovely Liffey Valley hidden away
so that till one is fairly into it one cannot imagine it.

Compare it with Malahide, Bray, Foxrock all so
near, all so lovely, all so individual ; and it is the same all
over Ireland, every five miles shows a different country,
except in the mountainous highlands. In America the
train passes through hundreds of miles of scenery all of
the same type that is, one type prevails for so long.
People who rush through Ireland to the show places
imagine, as some very foolish person said, that it is " an
ugly picture set in a beautiful frame." No ! it is a
true artist's picture every simple thing bewitched
into loveliness by its exquisite atmospheric effects. The
" frame " the seaboard is lovely, certainly, but really
I think Queen's County is as lovely as anything I have
ever seen.


A Jog, Jog Journey to Limerick

I must return to our night's lodging. Just as we were
beginning to wonder where our house had hidden itself,
a cyclist saluted. Here was our host ; here was our gate.
A deep hidden avenue, an old house, an old orchard, and
the river close by one of those charming old Dublin
houses which, with its low ceilings, nice cornices, large
rounded bowed rooms rather than windows, are so
delightfully graceful in their proportions. A house
such as my soul loveth, this was indeed Boss seized
his opportunity to assault a dog three times his size
with great uproar.

Well, in the morning I had to go up that Liffey Valley
and see the rest of it a new tract of country to me.
We twisted along till we came to Lucan, but pony had
been giving very clear indications that we were over-
weighted, and why not ? For we had cart-irons and
knives and forks and boots, and house linen, &c., &c
Now, Gem does not object to a tramp, but does to over
loading, and turns round and looks at us at the bottom
of every hill. Lucan station saw her delivered from
most of her burden, and on we went, on, on, on, not
knowing clearly where we were going, but vaguely that
it was south-west, and towards Sallins. A very pretty
road with trees and greenery it would have been, but that
it was intensely cold. First of June, but like November,
with cutting rain off and on. I laughed to see the poultry
during a shower, about a dozen of them, standing in a
row with their heads against the wall to shelter, and
envied them !

Boss kept us cheered, however. There was not a bit of
me he did not trample upon in frantic endeavours to get at
everything he saw. " O Dan, Dan ! that dog is scrambling
up my shoulders, under my cloak, and I can't pull him out !"
" Now, Boss, that's not a big dog ! that's a donkey. Don't
you know the difference between a dog and a donkey f "


^ J> J J ourne y to Limerick

We crossed the railway and found a station. It was
Straffan. That gave us a standing place. Hitherto
we had not rightly known where we were, but from that
on we struck one of the great old roads of the country,
a road that took us right through the Bog of Allen and
the great flat country of the Barrow, and the Grand
Canal, by Robertstown and Rathangan. The road from
this point (Straffan) to Rathdowney is almost flat, and a
grand cycling road, and the country was strangely beauti-
ful long, flat, straight lines, broken here and there
with small hills; larger hills far off, but mainly before
and around us to the horizon the ground was absolutely
flat, flat as the sea and a sea it must have been com-
paratively late in geological time, for close to the Hill of
Allen is a raised sea-beach of pure sea sand. Standing
there on that slight rise, rubbing the sea sand through
my hands, and looking out over the June grass
swaying to the keen wind, it needed little imagination
to change the scene into an inland sea, the green meadows
into waves, the bog-cotton to dancing foam, and the
darkness of the bog to " wine-dark " cloud shadows.

Strangely the view most like to this view that I have
seen was from Minneapolis, out in Minnesota, looking
over the prairie.

All our drive that day we seemed to be crossing un-
accountable canals, for our map only showed one, but
there were many more. These canals were bordered
with bog-bean, with its graceful and beautiful white
flower and fine leafage ; then golden water lilies and
marsh marigold, and I doubt not, in their seasons,
many more lovely plants. These are not single plants
or patches, but rather a beautiful embroidered border
to the shining, silent, straight water. I own I love a
canal. It has something of the charm that George Sand
so beautifully ascribes to the road. It has that purified.


^ J&> J J ourne y to Limerick

It has its own secret peacefulness, its subdued wildness.
Man has conquered nature to use, and nature has re-
conquered man's work to beauty.

Much of the ground we passed through that day must
have been under water in the winter ; the sign of the
grey mud was still on the grass. Sad to think this great
fertilising possibility is still untamed, doing harm where
it might do good. The whole drive was beautiful and
interesting ; but from Lucan to Rathangan is a long,
long stretch, and there did not seem a house one could
shelter in all that way.

I thought we should have to make Portarlington,
and I was very, very tired. (Of course on these long
tramps we camp, feed horse and ourselves by the road-
side in mid-day.) On reaching Rathangan we found it
a village town, with something calling itself an hotel.

" Dan," said I, " I'm tired, and so is pony. We have
come a long way from Chapelizod, let us see if we can
get a cup of tea and a rest here, and then go on." In
we went and found a very clean sittingroom and bed-
room. So, after all, we stayed the night. A very friendly,
kindly little place. My experience is that one often
finds the cleanest hotels in quite tiny places. Of course
accommodation is often rather primitive, but one might
go further and fare worse, and los. was my night's bill.

Next morning I had a curious reminder of last century's
wild Ireland. I noticed at breakfast a charming quaint
egg-cup, and asked the maid about it. She told me it
was her grandmother's, and then she brought out a
number of old bits of china and some very old-fashioned
stemless wine glasses. In those days, to escape drinking
was almost impossible, for the custom was to break the
wine glass stems, so that a man had to empty his glass,
like it or no ! hence stemless, flat-bottomed wine
glasses were made for careful people. I had heard of


^ JS> J J ourne y to Limerick

but not seen them before ; such quaint little things
they looked, like a man on stumps, that I wished I could
carry off a pair, but they were evidently family treasures.
To show you how kindly these country inns often are,
I like to tell that before I left the house the girl brought
me a pair of little vases as a present to " remember
Rathangan by." It was not the first time in my wander-
ings that this has happened. In this neighbourhood
also I found another charming remembrance the Irish
wall toad-flax (Linaria cymbalaria) in a snow-white
variety just touched with pale yellow in the centre. A
sweet little plant, like fairy carving in ivory, leaf and
growth and flower all so perfect.

About half-way to Portarlington you still pass through
much bog, but after that the country is fertile and pretty
with trees. We met here a drover with cattle, so very un-
improved, so lean, so small, that I wondered what hidden
away part of Ireland had gone to the making of them.
Perhaps some recesses of the Slieve Bloom Mountains
to which we were drawing near. Portarlington we
passed through, on our way, as we supposed, to Mary-
borough ; but where we arrive on these tramps is always
uncertain, and this was what happened to us. A cross
roads Dan to passing man : " Please, which is the
way to Maryborough ? " " There's two roads here
and you can go either." " Which is the best of them, ? "
said I. " That's the best, ma'am, but it's the longest."
" We'll go that road, Dan. Those hills near Mary-
borough are no joke." I had had much experience of
the road between Maryborough and Monasterevan. A
very pretty road it is, with charming old Scotch firs, but
it goes quite straight up hill and down dale like a curragh
over the Atlantic billows ! Well, we drove on, mind
you, to Maryborough. After about five miles " Dan !
what's that town before us ? Surely it can't be Mary-


^ J> JS J ourne y to Limerick

borough yet ? " " No, Miss, that's not Maryborough,
I think." The map comes out. " It must be Mary-
borough, Dan ! It can't possibly be Monasterevan,
and there's no other big town anywhere around here."
Dan : " Well, I don't think it can be Maryborough ;
it don't look like it." " Shout at that man, Dan, and
ask him the name of that big town, and how it comes
here ? " " He says it's Mountmellick, Miss ! " " Oh !
bravo ! That's what has happened us ! That's grand !
I was afraid of going for Mountmellick. I thought it
was quite up in the hills. We'll go straight through
now to Mountrath ; it's much our best way." So poor
Maryborough never saw the dear Boss ! and we trotted
through a flourishing looking town that was quite un-
conscious of its accidental appearance on our scenes.

From this on, our road was very pretty. If the mind
is attuned to beauty of a quiet nature, as much pleasure
can be drawn from it as from more exciting scenes, and
it does not fag the attention and weary one. The
Alps (especially in Spring) are a wonderful revelation,
but I have been so absolutely tired by the excitement
of their beauty that I could no longer enjoy. This
never happens in Ireland. I have driven through the
country near Mountrath several times, and always found
it lovely. The atmospheric effects are peculiarly beauti-
ful. The neighbouring ranges Slieve Bloom and
Devil's Bit probably clear the air, and the heather
over Slieve Bloom is wonderful. The mountains in
autumn are purple and rose from base to tip, and most
lovely; but the spring dress was almost as beautiful,
green and blue lighted slopes embroidered with golden
furze. There are trees, too, in sufficient numbers to
relieve the bare mountain side. As you look back also
towards Kildare the country is curiously picturesque
flats with grey clumps of trees and poplars, and sudden


^ J> J8 J urne y to Limerick

small island-like hills, rather France-like views. I love
the country east of Mountrath, but Mountrath is im-
possible as regards accommodation. This time we came
in there for a fair, and could get no attendance at all
at either of the hotels. We had to push on to the nearest
town Rathdowney. Mountrath is not a small town,
and seems to have business ; it is a pity the hotels are so
poor, as it would be a nice centre for cyclists. That is
how it is in Ireland. You will find comfortable, cleanly
inns in tiny places, and in good towns miserable, dirty

Well, we had to go on, like it or no ; we could not
even get pony shod, and Dan was shaking his head.
" Well, Dan ! we've got a splendid evening and plenty
of time, and we'll go very easy. Perhaps we'll get a forge
on the road." And sure enough we did. Womenkind
don't see that process of shoeing or removing often,
and it struck me much the picturesque grey-headed
smith, so quick and handy, and the perfect restful confi-
dence of the pony, her leg and foot lying on his knee
as a dog might lay its head on mine. (What a wonder
the first training of the wild horse to that process must
have been when you come to think of it !) The shoe is
off with a few deft strokes, the foot is pared all round
and underneath (then a little dog runs in and eats the
parings, Boss and he make friends), and on goes the shoe
before you know where you are ! And then elaborate
filings of odd nail ends. It was a most pleasant interlude
in the beautiful evening lights, for our day had been
perfection and most thoroughly enjoyed.

I own before I visited Rathdowney I did not know of
its existence, but it is quite a smart little town, stirring
and neat, with a large brewery, a reservoir, swans and a
swan island, and, I believe, two really good hotels. Near
my hotel is an old bridge with the motto, if I remember

^ J> J J ourn ey to Limerick

rightly " This bridge was erected in 1813 by the spirited
and independent inhabitants of Rathdowney." A bit
of " highfaluting " that amused me, all the more as from
Davies' old dictionary of Ireland Rathdowney seems
to have been rather a poor little place at that time. The
go-ahead spirit was there, you see, and still at the end of
near a century the words appear true. There is an
appearance of energy in the place usually sadly wanting.
I bought here a pair of phaeton reins, home-made, for
6s. 6d., good and strong. Too seldom one can find
anything home-made for sale in Ireland. Hotel bill
here cost IDS. 6d. Total cost from Dublin man, horse,
dog, self, carriage, and oats (but with mid-day dinners
in basket from home) came to ,1 55. lod. to Limerick.
Train fares would be about man, los. ; self (2nd), igs. ;
dog, 2s. 6d. ; horse, 2 ; carriage, about 3. People
do not realise the saving of going by road when having
to move horses, &c. Railway fares for horses are far
too high.

Rathdowney is, I think, fifty-eight miles from
Limerick, as far as I can make out on map, but pony was
fresh and new shod, and I had all my Dublin weariness
blown away by the splendid fresh air all day, these drives
are so life-giving. So with a good courage, not knowing
what was before us, we started on a rather chill morning.
Wisdom was in me, but it had not fair play ! " Dan,"
said I, " the day is not too good ; we'll keep the low
country and go by Dundrum. At the worst there is
a good room there." Ah ! yes, I was wise ! We drove
to Templemore, then along a fine road. An evil prompt-
ing made me ask : " Where does this fine road lead to ? "
" To Borrisoleigh." It was a word of temptation. I
had been there years before, and wished to return. So
all my wisdom flew away, and we with it, into the heart
of the wild, cold hills. These big old roads, the old


A Jog, Jog Journey to Limerick

coaching roads throughout Ireland, are a real fine sight ;
of great width, finely kept, bordered on either side
with ten feet or more of " the long farm," * shaded often
with really fine trees. They were a great surprise and
joy to me when I first began my tramps. Now I reckon
on them and their park-avenue-like distances as a more
ambitious soul reckons on Mount Blanc ; but surely I
did not expect one leading to Borrisoleigh, a little village
in a gap through which the road winds that leads from
South Tipperary to Nenagh. Borrisoleigh Castle, how-
ever, must have been an outpost of civilisation long ago,
for behind it lies the stretch of country between Devil's
Bit and Keeper Mountains, that is even now wild and
desolate to a degree. In Davies' very good Atlas, pub-
lished 1837, no road is shown through this mountain
district we went through ; it must then have been utter
wilderness. It has now a thoroughly good road, but is
still one of the dreariest districts I have ever been through.
My perverse desire to see everything made us attempt a
road " direct to Newport through the hills." Weary
on us ! Hour after hour, hour after hour from Borriso-
leigh, on we drove, twisting round one black-capped
and round-headed hill after another ; no trees, nor
ruins, no views, no villages, and yet a share of popula-
tion, and a creamery ! See how insidious is this agent
of civilisation ! It has invaded even that desolate

It was a fearful drive. It was blowing cold, wet rain
in our faces (we all know the difference between wet
rain and dry !) Every hill we twisted round only opened
up new and interminable vistas of black valley and black
round hills. I could have sat down on a fence and cried,

* Poor people in Donegal have their beasts " out on the long farmi"
that is, grazing by the roadside. S. G.


^ J8> J> Journey to Limerick

but it would have been no good, so instead I quoted
Horatius Codes to cheer up Dan " And the strong heart
within him bare bravely up his chin." As for Boss,
he subsided altogether under my rug. For me, I took
refuge behind my aged umbrella, but as I still wanted
to see, I poked long slits in the old silk till I got a fine
view of the pony's ears. This is a real practical use for
an old umbrella ; stick it before your nose, poke holes
into it, and you have then a tent and a window, and a
window frame !

Oh ! the longing for some incident ! Such an incident

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Online LibraryCharlotte Grace O'BrienCharlotte Grace O'Brien; selections from her writings and correspondence → online text (page 14 of 16)