Charlotte Grace O'Brien.

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

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as (here I show it) I came in for a few days ago a grand
cock fight. I was strolling home one fine evening and
came on this pair, at it hammer and tongs, enjoying
themselves amazingly, till their old mistress hustled
them off ; but we had no such luck that cold wet evening.
I have travelled on either side of those hills, yet, surely,
I never realised the existence of that broad band of
wilderness in the heart of those mountains about twenty-
eight miles long by ten broad. What a fastness it must
have been in Elizabethan times ! Then the Irish possessed
immense herds, and one can fancy that even now thousands
of cattle might be hidden away unknown in the folds
of those hills. The Homestead has letters off and on
attributing the success of England to meat eating. In
Elizabeth's time potatoes were not, corn was destroyed
in the wars. The Irish lived almost exclusively on meat.
English soldiers are reported as dying from excess of
fresh meat and want of other food in Ireland. Meat
eating is not the secret of success, for hunting tribes are
proverbially indolent.

I said before there were no villages on this road there
are none in the usual sense, but as one may see in America
in some wilderness, hundreds of miles from anywhere,
four or five large frame-houses called " Liverpool," or

209 o

A Jg> Jg Journey to Limerick

" London," so here at a cross-road were four or five
substantial houses fourteen miles or so from everywhere
and the name of that place is " Milestone." Does not
the very name speak the featureless nature of the country ?
Here was no crag or castle, wood or country house, lough,
or lis or dun to name the place by ; only the long-watched
for Milestone !

When at last, near 7 o'clock, we opened up the Limerick
valley, the sun came out to greet us, or rather I suspect
we came out of the mountain mist into a glory of grey
and silver lights over the Shannon plain. Then out
popped Boss to bark at everything, the weary pony
pricked up her ears smelling familiar smells, and we re-
joiced as those do who have seen and endured and escaped !
Well, we have seen it. This bit of Ireland so near home,
of which I knew nothing, is now in my hands to put into
its place as part of the country. Do my readers do
you who fly all over the world in trains understand at
all the pleasure of having a mental grip of your own
country foot by foot ? For me, I like a jog, jog journey.

Erin ! thy children love, and love for ever,

With that abiding love that cannot die,

Thy cloudland, thy mountains, thine ocean, and thy sky,

Thy meadowed valleys green, thy sea-like river ;

Can we tear them from our hearts ? can we sever

Those bonds ? Ah never never till we die.

August, 1898.



IN the year 1863, in the last autumn of life my father,
William Smith O'Brien, ever saw, I stood with him
one beautiful evening on top of the hill of Knockainey,
in the east of the county of Limerick that interesting
Knockainey, the site of so much both of legend and
history. The western sky was full of light, and even at
that great distance I suppose at least twenty-five miles
we were able to distinguish the strange artificial hill
of Shanid, its outline cut clear against the sunset, dominat-
ing the whole western horizon. Two rough drawings
will give an idea of its remarkable appearance. The
first shows just the Keep and top of the hill on which
it is built ; the second shows it in relation to the surround-
ing country, and Shanagolden in the foreground. The
great masses of masonry, nine feet in width, have to be
remembered in estimating the size ; for though the
actual remaining buildings are not large, the whole
thing, the artificially-shaped hill, the great mass of
masonry standing like a black clenched fist thrust against
the western heavens, makes it certainly one of the most
impressive of our ancient remains. It is a thousand
pities that the Board for preserving ancient buildings
has overlooked it, for it is quite unique. It is also interest-
ing as the original fortress of the Geraldines " Shanid
aboo " being their war cry. The time of the construc-
tion of the castle is unknown, but to me it appears that


Shanid Castle

these circular fortifications were the fashion in the
period just preceding and during King John's reign.

For the first time for many long i years I went up to
the castle the other day, myself and two raven-locked
children, and the Boss and his dad. ^ The children ran
up and scrambled about hatless, their black locks flying
in the wind that for ever beats about this high-perched
castle, and gave no thought to me, while I climbed
slowly up the almost perpendicular grass side, and many
a scene out of the far away times of Ireland came out
before my fancy. Yes, and also something of to-day
a something that spoke human life, but would need Miss
Barlow's delicate genius fully to interpret. On this
wild and lonely hillside I noticed a flagstone lying. I
went up to it. It was a miniature grave a new grave-
stone drawn from the castle walls, laid down on a bed of
moss and flowers, evidently fresh. The castle towered
over my head, at my feet lay this child's work. On the
stone was written in blue chalk : " The death of the
little queen." Then another hand had apparently
written : " We were very hard on them." I lifted the
stone, but saw only moss and flowers. What child
tragedy (or perhaps it was the fairies) lay in those words ?
Surely it was a poetic nature that sought such a resting
place for some dead love, and adorned it so carefully
" the little queen." Ah ! it touched all the chords of
thought to contrast that not fully comprehended child
work with all the terrible and wild human life that had
been, and had ended, and was also hinted at but not
explained by the gloomy remains of stone and earth
building around. *.

My especial mission this time to the castle was also
suggestive. There is a certain very rare thistle, with
large smooth leaves and great feathery heads, called the
Milk Thistle, or, in Ireland, the " Virgin Mary's Thistle."


Shanid Castle

The reason it is so called is because the leaves are all
blotched and marbled with white stains, and legend
made it a sacred plant, bearing for ever stains of the
Blessed Virgin's milk. Now, I had it in my mind that
thirty years ago I had seen this plant at the castle, and as
my brother had told me it was also found at Askeaton,
I wished to confirm my impression. Sure enough, I
found a mass of it growing together, only on the southern
exposure, under the great wall. Now, this plant is said
to exist only as an introduced plant in the British Isles.
To account for it, therefore, on this utterly lonely and
desolate hill-top, we must look back through the
centuries and see the sacred plant in the monastery
garden at Askeaton (mind, Askeaton was the great
Geraldine home in Desmond). We must think how the
seed may in fact, must have been carried up to this
watch tower, perhaps by some long-haired daughter
of the Geraldines, sent for safety to the mountain fortress ;
we must imagine how its frail growth (only annual)
took hold on the sheltered side ; we must see generation
after generation of men swept away, the monastery torn
down and desecrated, the name of Desmond almost
forgotten, the great Geraldine race broken and de-
stroyed ; we must see the almost impregnable castle blown
to pieces and left as a trampling ground for the summer-
heated cattle ; more wonderful than all, we must realise
that time has so gone by that no record is left us of that
great downfall and destruction nothing nothing but
a few pieces of nine-foot thick wall, a few earth mounds,
and the sacred plant. Irishmen ! What national history
lies in one seed of that plant. Think of it ! realise it !

I rooted pieces of old bone out of the steepest side of
the hill. Were they human ? Did they belong to the
men who died when the castle fell ? I desire death
when I think of these things, if death gives the drawing


Shanid Castle

back of the veil that separates us from the generations
of the dead. I desire death that I may go hand and
hand with the dead, that I may see, and see, and see,
and know even as I am known !

* Ah ! but the living, the living shall praise Thee, O Lord !
and to those who live or have lived in our own life we
must stiil return, and I look forth over County Limerick
and think of the men of our time. First, almost on
Shanid Hill, is the cottage where my friend Father
Richard O'Kennedy was born, whose beautiful sketches
of Irish peasant life are lit by the pathos and humour
of his own full-blooded Celtic heart. A little further
down the hill lies the birth-place of Sir de Lacy Evans, a
distinguished soldier. Then comes old Abbey, the home
of Colonel Morgan, C.B., another Indian hero ; long
may he live to enjoy his curious old home, the ancient
" Home of the Black Hag ! " To the north on the
Shannon is Fairy Lawn, the home of Gerald Griffin.
To the south, Cahirmoyle, the home and grave of W. S.
O'Brien. Away across the plain we see Curragh, the
home of the poet de Veres Sir Aubrey, his son Aubrey,
and Sir Stephen all distinguished men. In the craggy
district close by is the old home of the Copleys, Bally-
clough ; they gave England a Lord Chancellor Lord
Lyndhurst. You cross the road from them to Bally-
cullen, from which came the Irish Lord Chancellor
Naish, or Nasshe, as the name is spelt on the old maps,
for they have been very long in this spot. Then we
must not forget the owners of Shanid, the Spring Rice
family the late Lord Monteagle, Chancellor of the
Exchequer, his son, Stephen Spring Rice, whose fame
abides in his own country ; and the present Lord
Monteagle (long may he reign !) But I must not go
too far afield, or the Homestead will put an extinguisher
over me ! Good bye !

Shanid Castle

Throughout those years those strange, long, voiceless


What hidden generations burst the womb,
Bore the long struggle of life, of love, of tears,
To the sad rest of a forgotten tomb ?

To them the -past were shadows, and our " now "
A dream unfashioned. Did they, therefore, live
Void of all strife ? with calm, unharassed brow
Welcome the fates that time and death might give ?

Ah no ! their tears were salt, their nerves as ours
Thrilled to love's touch, and all our being is
Was theirs the sorrow and the love that dowers
Our world with pain and joy, with tears and bliss.

The long, long past, and this our life to-day
That shadowy past and this too present " now,"
The hands of friends I touch, the mouldering clay,
Dead loves that live within my heart, and Thou.

O Lord ! O Life ! Who bindest all in one,
Lie mirrored on my gazing soul, as lie
The summer fulness and its central sun,
Imaged within the compass of mine eye.

September, 1898



A letter written to Mr. Standish James O'Grady's
All Ireland Review, October 14, 1905 :

DEAR MR. O'GRADY, I have been talking all the
time to you this last week, out of reading The Social
Unrest : Studies in Labour and Socialist Movements
(Brooks), an American book that throws great light on
all labour subjects. For myself, I steadfastly believe in
individuality primarily ; but I also believe in sociality.
Man must aim to work to give each one full scope for
his whole genius and life, and also to draw mankind into
communities, working consciously together to raise the
whole body corporate, even as every member of our
physical body must be in health, and given exercise,
and development, and freedom, before the body corporate
can reach its full growth.

The present mere money system is one that succeeds
in a sense, as bees and ants succeed, by the sacrifice of
the individual powers of community. The creatures
live and die neuters, drones, egg-laying machines.
That is what our capitalism is bringing. That is not the
Kingdom of God or of Christ, of the Blessed Mother,
of the glorious company in heaven and earth. The
worship of wealth and fashion, of blood and empire, is
the modern idolatry, fruitful for evil and falsehood.

Now, take Miss Lawless's verses on Ireland. I
personally detest the view of Irish history that Miss
Lawless takes. She takes up a handful of clay full of
diamonds, rubies, and gold, and flings it aside, where
a larger mind would see the unspeakable riches of God,

From a Roman Catholic

What nation has for ages made greatest personal
sacrifice for its religious life ? The Irish. What nation
has maintained purity of marriage ? The Irish. What
nation has humbly and unostentatiously sanctified its
family life through prayer and religion ? The Irish.
What nation has more tenderly regarded its duties to
the ties of family love than these poor Irish ? What
nation has been more ready to lay down life, even for a
false honour in war ?

" Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the
Kingdom of Heaven." What nation is as near, as within
sight of the Kingdom of Heaven, as we Irish ?

" Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be com-
forted." Stand at a Catholic death-bed in Ireland.

" Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the
earth." Go abroad into the nations, and see the children
of God monks and nuns, priests and laypeople con-
quering earth for Christ.

" Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after
righteousness, for they shall be filled." Let those who
do not know that blessed hunger and thirst satisfy them-
selves with gold, and meat, and drink, and cry down the
Irish. " Your riches are corrupted, your garments are
moth-eaten, your gold and your silver are rusted, and
their rust shall be a testimony against you, and shall
eat your flesh as fire."

" Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
Ah ! too merciful are the Irish !

" Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
Who ever really knew our people who had not first
"seen God?"

Who more than they have been persecuted for
righteousness ? Yes, truly. Rejoice and be exceeding
glad, for great is our reward. Not freedom from sorrows,
or poverty, or weakness, or sin itself, but the sight of


From a Roman Catholic

God, and good behind all things. Yea, verily. God is
good. We miss too much the temporal ; we never
miss the eternal.

I wish you had seen Constable Sheahan's funeral here
the man who gave his life in Dublin. We had barely
received the news here when the corpse arrived, but
from Glin the people came up. I suppose a hundred cars,
horses, &c. (eight miles) probably five hundred or more
people no doubt a thousand by the time Glin was
reached, for " the man of them who gave his life for his

This year a young man was drowned here trying to get
a drunken Englishman safe on board (he himself was quite
sober) very poor people, no hearse. His companions
carried him on their shoulders, about five miles, to mark
their feeling for the man " who gave his life." Our
despised people again. This was in the depth of cold
winter. Is there a day we cannot see some beautiful
trait of character, if our eyes are open, notffull of^detest-
able gold-dust, the breeder of iniquity.

P.S. Anything you do print of mine, put my name
to it. I have always my father's word in mind " I will
never beget that which I dare not father."


MANY are the lovely places in Ireland of which the
tourist knows nothing, and of them the wide-spreading,
far-reaching, blue-glancing distances of our grand Lower
Shannon are most worthy of loving praise ; or, at least,
I thought so, for the fates of my life made me a true
lover of the Shannon before I well had sense to know
my right hand from my left. First, in mere babyhood,
from the heads of the high towers of Dromoland Castle,
Co. Clare, I remember the beautiful blue distances, but
am not sure if the river itself showed ; anyhow, the river
country left on my mind a vision of distances of blue and
purple. Then later, when we lived in County Limerick,
ten miles inland, the first joy of our lives was a long day
spent on the shores here ; therefore no sooner did I,
at twenty-one, begin to handle my own money than a
vision of a cottage at Foynes, my own building and my
own forming, began to hover before me. If it had not
been that a man-of-war was permanently in Foynes
at the time * I was able to take the work in hand, I fear
my too wise friends would have gone further than remind
me that " fools build houses," &c. However, my folly
gained the day, and proved good wisdom in the long run,
and after all we " fools " who take a little bit of the
surface of our country and make it beautiful and useful,
and yearly spend money maintaining honest labour,
seem to me to do work of more real use and charity than

* This enabled her to let to the officers. S. G,

The Making of Our Home

" slumming " after the people who have been forced
into the towns owing to the neglect of the possibilities of
country life. I own it makes me feel very bad when I
see friend after friend taking money and life and families
away to London, leaving our country, that so needs
loving help, bare and desolate, and our people unemployed
and uncultivated. I know one little mud hovel, it has
two feet of garden, it is hardly fit for human habitation,
but the roses and other flowers make my mouth water
as I drive by, and I say the man or woman who does
that on a big scale or little is doing that which is pleasing
in God's sight and worthy of human honour, and God
bless him or her.

Having got permission to build, after much to-and-fro,
I had to pitch on a suitable field and get it no easy
thing in Ireland at that time. But I was in luck, and
secured a little five-acre (Irish) basin on the hillside
close over the river and sloping south, covered with
furze and bracken, otherwise quite bare. We built the
house, turned the plough over the lovely bracken field,
and put in unlovely potatoes for two or three years,
then meadowed it. The furze still remains a standing
joy and expense, only to be conquered by tree planting.
I have come to the conclusion that the way to fight
furze is to plant with laurels. They can be simply
layered in as cuttings (a long cutting, then lift sod with
long spade, lay cutting under sod both ends out, beat
the sod down hard). Laurels in our climate grow very
rapidly and very strong they form a dense and black
mass, under which both furze and seedling furze would
soon die. The laurels make splendid firing when a few
years old, and if ultimately the land is wanted they are
easily grubbed, whereas the furze is cut and grubbed
one year and up the next a hopeless business !

I found myself, in 1870, with a bare little house

The Making of Our Home

perched on the hillside, with very little room on the east,
rocky hill north, but a nice fall to south and rise to west.
Then I was obliged to let the house, and it was not till
1878 I was really able to begin the garden. About this
time this old photograph was taken. The garden was
largely hewn out with a pickaxe ; not that solid rock
was too near the surface in most parts, but the whole
soil was a mass of " pencil slate," and I remember well
my brother saying to me " You'll never be able to make
a garden here ! There is no earth, its all chips of rock ! "
However, he was used to good, heavy limestone land,
and did not realise the possibilities of those same " chips
of rock " for tree, shrub and flower growing.

We read on every hand nowadays of the bountiful
blessings of youth, the freedom and the joy of movement
and of love, the excitements of travel and the pleasures
of physical perfection when one is young. Is there no
one to be found who will sing of the virtue of old age ?
Surely it can be done, and with a good heart, too, if the
path of life broken and jagged and thorny though it
may have been has yet led steadily between the bloom-
ing banks of flowery youth in the country till one sees
the full development of trees planted by one's own hand,
and can gather the roses grown from one's own cuttings.

My " chips of rock " make a fine nest for trees, and
as I walk about and show newcomers my thujas, or
piceas, or pines, and say to them, " There was not a tree
in this place when I took it up, but look at that tree and
that, and see what an old woman I must be," I glory in
my age. Surely one may be as proud of a green wig
on one's trees as of a yellow wig on one's skull both are
fleeting, but at least the green lasts the longest. I made
a mistake in claiming that no tree was in the place before
my time. There were three small oaks which had a
history. The father of the present Sir Charles


The Making of Our Home

Barrington (or his grandfather) had^a fancy about oaks,
and is said to have always carried acorns in his pocket,
and planted them in^handy corners along the roads,
and these three trees are believed to have sprung from
his acorns. My near forty years of tenancy has not
made much difference to them, whilst all around the
upstart foreigners forget the shortness of their youth
and the haste of their maturity, and the swiftness of their
decay, while ever and always the slow oaks sigh to the
flowing river and gaze on the mirrored clouds, seeing
in them both the swift passage of their summer leafage
and the far-beckoning distances of immovable time. .^^
I observe here and in other places, both in County
Limerick and County Dublin, that small seedling oaks are
very frequent amongst grass in the meadows ; indeed,
if one could fancy Ireland without cattle, I believe
fifty years would see the country clothed with oak, ash,
beech, sycamore, horse-chestnut and Scotch fir : a
hundred years would see it once more Banba, the Isle
of Woods. But oaks spread more away from the parents
than the other trees, owing to the rooks dropping them
" over and hether." Here lauristinas, bays, berberis,
cotoneasters, and many other foreigners run wild, and
bid fair to hold their own. The laurel does so inland,
but not here. But the trees and they live their own lives,
little helped or hindered by me, even little noticed ;
still, a background of nature's joyful endeavour framing
my " Hub of the Universe " my flower garden and
to the flower garden I come back. When I turn over
in my mind the tons of seaweed, " road stuff," bog
mould, " made soil," and manure that poor little garden
has eaten up, I say to myself, " Sure never was such hungry
land," and of all the manures the most useful is the
ground-down limestone from off the roads. One can
do nothing without continual putting in of new material,


The Making of Our Home

but with that the compost suits bulbs splendidly, and
anything that can be given time as a rule. Stony,
it remains hot and dry ; but^winter is almost as flowery
as summer, barring December and January, and
spring is early and glorious. Summer after I5th July
is always, alas ! a check. We blaze up with a superb
rush of flowers up to that date, but no persuasion will
induce regular half-hardies to do much good, and annuals
grow small and spikey, and are very soon out of bloom.
Carnations, funkias, lilies, gladioluses, Michaelmas daisies
and schizotylis succeeded one another in beautiful abun-
dance ; but one sighs for the soppy, rich, luxuriant
beauties that grow out of all bounds in the ordinary
damp, rich, limestone soil of Ireland. I have to depend
largely on pinks in their varieties ; seedlings from seed
of my own gathering and rearing for one thing. They
give one great variety, a large proportion of doubles, and
unlimited flowers. Of course they are not individually
as fine as the named carnations one buys (and as many of
those as I can beguile out of my neighbours' cuttings
or layers ; I lay hands on), but the seedlings begin in April
and are still flowering in November, and are always
jolly and healthy. It is not necessary in gathering
the seed that it should be black ripe ; if well developed
and well dried the yellow seeds germinate all right. I
have not found that I got better seed by buying than
I grew at home. I sow in early summer out of doors,
and have a fresh lot every succeeding year. They are a
great stand-by, for very few die.

I was saved by a careless temperament and want of
money from the pernicious facility of a " paper garden."
A garden neatly laid out on paper, accurately measured,
thought out and devised, may be all very well for straight
town-slips behind the houses that owe all their beauty
to the hand of man ; but for ground formed by nature


The Making of Our Home

and by her beautiful curving planes, trust only to the eye,

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Online LibraryCharlotte Grace O'BrienCharlotte Grace O'Brien; selections from her writings and correspondence → online text (page 15 of 16)