Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Thomas Carlyle and Lord George

Thursday 2nd August [Book says Monday]

Dim moist morning, pleasant breakfast (Lady Augusta (?) who has a baby, not there), paternal wit of Lord G. with his nice little modest boys and girls in English, German, French; Plattr. to go with us to Gweedore. Big new mill; big peat stacks; carriage house, some 3 nice sleek wiry horses, “all kept at work”, and able for it. Air of gentleman farmer’s place and something more; car about 11 and swift firm horse, rain threatening, - which came only to a heavy Scotch mist now and then, with brief showers. Tattery untrimmed fields, too small, ill fenced, not right in any way. Wretched puddly village, “Kilmacrennan,” like an inverted saddle in site, brook running through the heart of it (?) miserable raree “caravan” stationed there, amid the dirt, poverty and incipient ruin. Road heavy and wet, past many ill-regulated little farms. Dunghill of one, “I have admonished him not to let it run to waste so,” – but he doesn’t mind! Road (is all very obscure to me; cardinal-points, at the time, not well made out, which is always fatal to one’s recollection!) – road, leading N.-westward, begins mounting, is still a little cultivated, very steep side road to north, Letterkenny to Glen and Carrickart I suppose!); mounts, mounts, occasional mist-rain a little heavier, day calm, and silvery, bleared glimpses had of the moor. – “National School” high up. I descend and enter, Lord George waits cheerfully, but won’t; the worst of all conceivable “national schools;” poor dreary frozen-alive schoolmaster, and 10 or 12 ragged children, - “parents take them all away in turf time;” they learn nothing at any time. Wrote in this book a disapproval. Protest against these schools; Catholics can do little, don’t always do it; a difficult affair for Mc.Donnel and Whately! Ghastly staring “new catholic chapel,” true Irish “Joss-house” on the moor to left; the image of ennui, sore-throat, and hungry vain hope of dinner! Peat farther on; foolish old farmer and his forces at work in peat-stack, pack horses instead of carts; a scandal to behold. Moor mounting ever higher, getting very black and dreary; cannot much remember the coming of Letterkenny and Dunfanachy road; do remember scandalous black muddy moors, all gleaming wet as a sponge, with grey rugged mountains (close to us on the left), with crags, rain and silent black desolation every-where; the worst of it however I think was further on.

“Glenbeagh Bridge;” turning round a sharp corner of a muddy peat-hill, we are upon it, and see Lough Beagh, “the prettiest of all the Donegal Lakes” – no great shakes, no great shakes? Hungry improved “farmstead” (some glimpse of slate and stone I do remember in it) with drowned meadows by the lake-side, to left. Lake narrow (outlet of it, “Owencarrow,” running from left to right of us); high stony steep of mountains beyond it; far up to the left, bright green spaces, (or stripes and patches) with woods, appearance of an interesting pass thro’ the mountains; more Highland-looking than anything I saw elsewhere; one “Forster” owns it. – At the beginning of our journey, and almost up to this point, there were large effectual long main-drains visible, just cut; a young Lord something’s property – sorry I cannot recal his name; he, and his “Government money” and beneficent extensive work were the most human thing I saw. Begins at Kilmacrenan, perhaps earlier. Here at Glenbeagh Bridge was a “relief convnc. Road” (very conspicuous intended-improvement, on our left), but lying as usual with a wall at each end of it. Mount again; black rocky “Dooish” (where are eagles, seen as we returned this way) on our left, and road rough, wet and uneven. “Calabber” stream (not do. “bridge” (I have a distinct recollectn. of that; cutting down thro’ the shoulder (you would have said,) of a considerable hill; “Halfway House,” and the still heathery glen that led towards it (Calabber stream this, at a higher point of it, running towards Owencarrow? Alas! I had no map of any value; I had no time, no patience or strength of any kind left!) all at the half-way house, which is a coarse dark weathertight cottage, a rebuilding I imagine; drink for the horse; good-humoured poor woman will have “a drop of potheen” when you return. Lord George knows all these people; speaks kindly, some words in Irish or otherwise, to every one of them. Excellent, polite, pious-hearted, healthy man; talk plentiful, sympathy with all good in this Lord G., candid openness to it; fine voice, excellent little whistle through his teeth as he drove us, - horse performing admirably. After Halfway-House, view of some wretched quagmire, with a lakelet by it, and spongy black bog and crag all round, which some Irish “Dublin Lawyer” has purchased, and is improving: Lord pity him, send more power to his elbow! I never drove, or walked, or rode, in any region such a black dismal 22 miles of road. This is the road Lord George drives or rides, thro’ these dismal moors – strong in the faith of something higher than the “picturesque” – Mount Arrigal, a white-peaked very sandy mountain, roof-shaped and therefore conical from some points of view, beautiful and conspicuous from all (2462 feet, map says), - lay a little west of this Irish lawyer: we cross by the southern side of it, - and suddenly out of the black moor into view of a lake “Lough-Na-Cung”) stretching northwestward round that side of Arrigal; and at the head of this Lough-Na-cung, come the prettiest patch of “improvement” I have ever in my travels beheld. Bright as sapphire, both grass and woods, all beautifully laid out in garden-walks, shrubbery-walks &c. and all shrunk for us to a tidy fairy-garden, fine trim little house in it too with incipient farms and square fields adjoining; to our eye and imagination drowned in black desolation for 15 miles past, nothing could be lovelier. A Mr. Something’s, lately deceased (to Lord George’s deep regret); I think, a Liverpool Merchant (?) : Widow lives here, and Lord George’s doctor at Gweedore ( I learn on the morrow) is to marry one of the young ladies: very well! “Lough Na-Cung” (I heard no name to it, but take this from the map) stretched away northward bending to west, a narrow crescent Lough, of no farther beauty; and from the Clady river, which traverses Gweedore and comes out of Bundbeg; here now is Lord George’s domain, and swiftly descending (by the back of Arrigal, which hangs white-sandy very steep over us) for about a mile we are in said domain. “Hundred thousand welcomes!” (Irish phrase for that) said Lord George with a smile. Plattnauer and I had smoked our third pipe or cigar; “you can do it in 3 pipes” – Head of Lough-Na-Cung I remember too; stony dell amid the high mountains, mounting in terraces of visible rock; like some Cumberland pass, new to me in Ireland.

The back of the Clady, stretching out from this Lough 5 or 6 miles, and flattening itself wide towards the sea, is Lord George Hill’s domain. Black, dim, lonely valley: hills all peat, wet and craggy heather, on each side; hills to right are quite vacant wet moor (tho’ less craggy in appearance and lower); river-side, mostly waste quagmire of rushes, can become fat meadow and has here and there: river sluggish brown-coloured; hills to left (as we enter; hills to north, that is); are of gentlish acclivity, but stony beyond measure; sprinkled in ragged clusters here are the huts of the inhabitants, wretchedest “farmers” that the sun now looks upon, I do believe. Lord George’s improvements are manifold; for instance, each man has his “farm” now all in one, not in 20 as heretofore, one long stripe of enclosure (dry-stone wretched wall, or attempt at wall, and cottage in or near it, ) each cottage too, has now some road; but “improvements” all are swallowed in the chaos, chaos remains chaotic still. Hill road from “Dunfanahy,” descending on the right, - not yet quite travellable, I think. New farm of Lough-Na-cung (Liverpool widow) “Improvements;” Ulster peasant in it; has really been endeavouring; house is built, slated stones, like a quarry, torn out everywhere, trenchings, feeblest symptoms of turnips springing, potato plot (ruined now alas!) is really growing; grey bony man stands looking, with what hope he can. Cottages now of Lord George’s; dry-stone fence half-done along the road; has hung so for years in spite of his encouragements to get it whole done. Black huts, bewildered rickety fences of crag: crag and heath, unsubduable by this population, damp peat, black heather, grey stones, and ragged desolation of men and things! Boat is on the river, fishy but unfished till now; “Gweedore inn,” two-storied white human house with offices in square behind, at the foot of hills on right, near the river: this is the only quite civilized-looking thing; we enter there, thro’ gateway, into the clean little sheltered court, and then under the piazza at the back of the inn, Forster waits for us, and is kindly received.

Rain has ceased, 2 pm or 3; but the air is damp, bleared, cold. Mount along the hill side; certain fields already saved out of it, not bad fields, but a continent of haggard crag-and-heather desolation, with its swamps and rivulets still remaining. Over the Clady something like an incipiency of a modern hamlet, and patches of incipient green; bridge thither, too far to go; chapel and school (Protestant Orange, no doubt) on this side river; signal-staff flag now mounted, his Lordship being here, and accessible to all creatures. Dinner in our little inn. Lord George’s surgeon (from Bunbeg; of whom mention was already) joined us, I think, in the evening. Manager of inn (for Lord George I think) an Ulster man, solid clever man of 45. Aberdeen-awa’ man, chief-manager, a hook-nosed, lean slow-spoken man of like age: what do you think of these people? “Oah-h! a whean deluidit craiturs, Sir: but just ye-see--!” Walk, with this man in company in the evening, to the new farmhouse he is getting built for himself, and new fields he is really subduing from the moor; pure peat all; but lime is abundant everywhere, and he does not doubt, and will certainly prevail, he. Some 5 or 6 Aberdeen and Ulster men; nothing else that one can see of human that has the smallest real promise here; “deluidit craiturs,” lazy, superstitious, poor and hungry. 7/6 no uncommon rent, 30/ about the highest ditto:- listening to Lord George I said and again said, “No hope for the men as masters; their own true station in the universe is servants,” “slaves” if you will; and never can they know a right day till they attain that.” Valley, if it were cultivated, might really be beautiful. Some air of stir and population and habitability already on it; huts, ragged potato patches, nearer there by the river side oat-patches, (lean cows, I suppose, are on the hills); south-side of river is as before nearly or altogether vacant of huts. Return to our inn, after arrangements for the morrow. How these people conspired to throw down Lord George’s fences, how they threatened to pay no rent, at first, but to shoot agent if compelled, and got their priest to say so; how they had no notion of work by the day, (came from 8 to 11 a.m.) and shrieked over hook-nosed Aberdeen when on Saturday night he produced his book and insisted on paying them by the hour; – how they are in brief, dark barbarians not intrinsically of ill dispositions – talk and commentaries on all this; small close room, with the damp wind and wide moorland outside, polite “stirabout” again, to me useless: finally to bed, with pathetic feelings, gratitude, sorrow, love for this noble man, and hope as if beyond the grave!

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