The “island of Lecale,” as the Elizabethan English called it, lies in the County of Down, surrounded on three sides by the sea, and on the fourth bounded by the Quoile and Blackstaff rivers. The northern coast of the “island” almost closes the mouth of Lough Cuan, now Strangford Lough, leaving but a narrow strait for boats to pass. On the south it bounds the Bay of Dundrum, across which rises the huge granite mass of the Mourne Mountains.
The fruitful plain of Lecale, defended and enriched by the sea, drew to it inhabitants from the first peopling of Ireland. All Irish history is reflected there. The in-comers of prehistoric times raised the great stone circles of Ballyno, that stupendous monument to a great hero and a solemn worship—none more astonishing in Ireland. On a wide slope, completely shut off and secluded by the higher ground, the rings of massive stones lie confronting alone the eminence on which is lifted up against the heavens the imposing mound of Erenagh, loftiest of the line of earthworks that surround Dundrum Bay. From the time of an immemorial Nature worship pilgrims have assembled, even as they gathered down to our own times, where the streams of Struel pour abundantly from the rock, to seek cleansing in the bounteous waters on Midsummer Day, and at the festival of Lughnasadh or Lugh’s fair on the first of August. The Red Branch of Emain sent its heroes to hold the two main passages into the “island,” and the inlets of the sea where trade was borne. On the northern port, known to Ptolemy as Dunum, where the river Quoile widens to Strangford Lough, Celtchair of the Battles made his entrenchment of Rath Celtchair or Dun Lethglasse, on a hill rising from the flat ground and swamps of the river. At the head of Dundrum Bay, where the sea narrows over a stretch of shoals and shallows to the inner bay, another Red Branch knight raised on a steep rock his commanding fort, Dún Rudraidhe, and left his name also to the ocean tide, Tonn Rudraidhe, whose waters were lifted up into one of the Three Waves of Ireland that sounded their warning to the land when danger threatened, or echoed the moan in battle of a dying hero’s shield. Here, in this place of Celtic legend, relics of bronze and pottery and stone can still be picked up in plenty on the sand dunes. Round the circuit of the bay half-a-dozen ancient earthworks may still be seen, connected with strands or harbours by old paths.
With the dawn of a new age the wanderings of St. Patrick gave to Lecale new memories—the wells which he blessed for the new faith; the wooden barn at Saul where he set up his church on the slope above the marsh along which the highway ran from Strangford to Down, and where the angel called him to die; the Dun of Patrick, or Downpatrick, given him for a Christian settlement on the old rath of Celtchair, where according to later legend he was buried, and where a great granite boulder now marks the traditional grave. Amid the majestic monuments of pagan heroes the lowly pioneers of the new faith raised their little buildings. The spit of land that separates the bay of Tonn Rudraidhe from that of Ardglass is fringed with low rocks black and jagged; and this point of danger to mariners, now marked by a lighthouse, was in early Christian times sanctified by a church. A tiny harbour cuts through the keen-edged rocks to a little strand where a couple of curraghs might lie: and there by the well the little company built their church—a small stone building twenty feet by thirteen, with the two narrow windows, one east and one south, to throw on the altar the light of the rising and the mid-day sun, and the western door for the departing day and the hour of benediction till the sun should make his circuit to the east. The name of St. John’s Point recalls that old dedication, and the early Irish devotion to their special saint, the beloved disciple of the Lord. Across the bay might be seen the austere cell of St. Donard lifted high, near 3,000 feet, on the topmost point of Slieve-Donard, dominating all Lecale, where an inspired solitary transformed the ancient pagan tradition to a new use, that as mighty men of old were in death commemorated by carns on the high hills, so on the mountain a Christian would shew afar the place of his burial to the world, and the place of his resurrection.
Lecale was soon filled with religious settlements and schools. Lying at the entrance to Lough Cuan of the hundred islands, now Lough Strangford, where a busy population tilled the fertile slopes, and sent out innumerable boats for the celebrated salmon-fishing, or for traffic, Lecale was as it were the guardian of their sanctuaries. Close to Downpatrick lies Crannach Dún-leth-glaisse, “the wooded island of Dún-leth-glaisse,” now known as Cranny island; there Mochuaróc maccu Min Semon, whom the Romans called the “doctor” of the whole world, lived early in the seventh century, and wrote down the calculus which his master Sinlan, Abbot of Bangor (+610), had first among the Irish learned from a certain wise Greek. Farther north, some twelve or fifteen miles from Ardglass, lies Inis-Mahee, where behind the boulder-strewn shore and the heavy seaweed thrown up by the waters on meadows and ploughed land over which sea-birds love to hover, past the harbour and the rude boat-shelter cut in the rock, we enter on a retreat where the light seems more translucent than elsewhere, the silence more penetrating and peace more profound, the colour as that of an everlasting spring—a space of wild wood, resonant with the song of birds, where the flowers spring thicker than the grass. There St. Mochaoi (Mahee) raised his wooden church about 450 a.d., first abbot and bishop. Legend told that as he was cutting wattles for his building, he heard a bright bird, more beautiful than the birds of the world, singing on the blackthorn near him, and asked who it was that made such a song. “A man of the people of my Lord,” answered the bird. “Hail,” said Mochaoi, “and for why that, oh bird that is an angel?” “I am come by command to encourage you in your good work, and because of the love that is in your heart to amuse you for a time with my sweet singing.” “I am glad of that,” said Mochaoi. One hundred and fifty years passed as a moment while he listened to the heavenly song; and when the bird vanished and he lifted up his bundle of wattles to carry home, a stone church stood there before him, and strange monks. They made him abbot once more; and there at last “a sleep without decay of the body Mochaoi slept.” The foundations of the little church with walls over three feet thick, the remnant of the round tower, the traces of other buildings on the west of the island hill, the well closed in, the triple ring of earthen entrenchments faced with stone that encircled the slopes of the island like a cashel, the port with its rough stone work into which “ships from Britain” sailed—these still tell of the days when Inis-Mahee was a school of religion and learning for all the district, where the famous St. Finian of Moville came to study. From the round tower the whole lough could be seen as far as Lecale and the passage to the sea. There must have been then, as there was later, much intercourse between the sea-going people of Mahee and Ardglass. For Ardglass was the port of the neighbouring monastery whose site we may still trace at Dunsford. A Protestant church was planted over it in Reformation times; but an old cross slab may still be seen, and from the graveyard there has been rescued an ancient stone font, and carried to the new church of the older faith; and here too an ancient Celtic cross from an old cemetery, of the type of those found at Clonmacnois, has been set over the church door.
Lecale was a rich land to plunder when the Danes descended on it. Not a creek that they did not visit. Their raids were followed by later raids of their Norman kinsmen, when in 1177 de Courcy came marching to the conquest of Ulster, dreaming himself the knight foretold by Merlin, and willing “to accommodate himself in dress, in gesture, in his shield, and even his white horse, to the prophecies; so that he looked more like a Merry-Andrew than a warrior.” The seizing of Lecale and Downpatrick was his first adventure; before a year was over (1178) he had attached Mahee to an English monastery, peopled it with monks from the other side of the sea, and along with Roger, the new lord of Dunsford, endowed it with large tracts of land about Dunsford and in Lecale. In spite of new wealth the spirit and fortunes of Mahee died for ever under foreign rule.
By de Courcy and his followers the island of Lecale was ringed with castles from the great keep of Dundrum (“it is one of the strongest holds I ever saw,” said Lord Leonard Grey) to Downpatrick at the passage of the Quoile. The memory of one of his Norman knights is preserved in Dunsford church, a grave-slab with a fine cross and sword cut deeply on it, perhaps the tombstone of “Rogerus de Dunsford.” The strong rush of waters that poured through the narrow neck of Lough Cuan at every incoming or outgoing tide, once guarded on either side by earthen entrenchments that may still be seen, was now held by a Norman keep at Strangford; but the towers of the coast line from Ardglass to Down—Kilclief, Walsh’s castle, Audley castle, Quoile castle, and the rest—each set at the head of a little bay, were evidently planted there for trade; and all probably on the sites of older Irish communities. Thus at Kilclief, while Norman cross slabs tell of de Courcy’s plantation, there is in the churchyard a long forgotten tombstone marked with a Celtic cross of the type of Clonmacnois. How many were thrown out to build fences, or to be broken on the roads! The activity of trade along the coast even as late as the eighteenth century may be seen by the remains at Quoile harbour near Down, the custom-house, the great stores, the houses of merchants and officials of the harbour.
In the 106 miles of coast that lie between Kingstown mole and Belfast bay, Ardglass is the one harbour where a ship can enter at all stages of the tide without a local pilot. It must ever have been a chief harbour of eastern Ulster—a port open at all times of the tide and sheltered from every wind save one, when boats could take refuge in the southern port of Killough, “the haven of Ardglass,” linked with it by an old path along the shore. A wall was thrown round the little town of Ardglass strengthened by seven towers, four of which may still be seen; and within these defences a central castle was set on the rocky edge of the port, where boats could be pulled up to the very door. The harbour was the outlet for the trade of the rich agricultural and wool-producing lands of Down, Tyrone, and Armagh, and traffic was carried on in wines, cloth, kerseys, all kinds of fish, wool, and tallow. There is evidence of trade with France in the beautiful altar-vessel found at Bright, of gilt bronze and many shaded enamel, fine Limoges work of about 1200 a.d.
With the revival of Irish life in the fourteenth century, and the gatherings of English merchants to Irish fairs, commerce increased and flourished. Richard ii. gave the port of Ardglass and its trade as a rich reward to the Gascon commander, Janico d’Artois, his bravest leader against Art MacMurchadh (1398). It is said that a trading company with a grant from Henry iv. built the famous “New Works.” Close to the harbour ran a range of buildings two hundred and fifty feet long, with three square towers, walls three feet thick, pierced on the sea-side by only narrow loop-holes, and opening into the “bawn” with sixteen square windows, and fifteen arched door-ways of cut stone that gave entrance to eighteen rooms on the ground floor and eighteen above. It is still possible to trace the line of the New Works, the doors and windows, and the remains of the towers. There seems to have been a local school of art continued from the earlier centuries: fragments of a Virgin and Child of old Dunsford made by Irish hands of Irish stone from Scrabo at the north end of Strangford Lough, broken and scattered for ages, have been recovered and pieced together and set on the wall of the new Dunsford church, where it now stands in its old grace and dignity as the only example in Ulster, perhaps in Ireland, of such a pre-Reformation statue not utterly destroyed. All the churches of Lecale, old men told a traveller about 1643, had before the burnings of Captain Edward Cromwell been lightly roofed, probably with fine open wood-carving, and highly adorned with sacred statues and images.
From a few fragments we can only guess what wealth was once stored up in Lecale. Wars of Irish and English raged round a harbour so important, as the chiefs of Ulster pressed down against the strangers over a land which had once at Dun Lethglasse held a chief fort of old Ulster kings. O’Neill burned Ardglass of the d’Artois house in 1433: in 1453 Henry O’Neill of Clannaboy was driven back from the town by the help of a Dublin fleet. At the close of the fifteenth century the English almost disappeared out of Lecale. Garrett the Great, Earl of Kildare (1477-1513), claimed Ardglass and the lands about it as heir through his mother to d’Artois, and gained supremacy there—a part of the far-seeing policy by which the house of Kildare was gradually widening its influence from sea to sea, from Ardglass to Sligo and the lower Shannon. His son Garrett Oge had, by grant of Henry viii. (1514), the customs of Strangford and Ardglass, to be held by service of one red rose annually; and still after four centuries heirs of the Fitzgerald house remain at the entrance of Strangford Lough. After the revolt of this Garrett’s son, Silken Thomas (1535), the English marched through the country, burning Lecale. The fall of the Kildares, allies and relatives of the O’Neills, brought a revival of the O’Neill wars for Ardglass, and of the English campaigns. Lord Leonard Grey has left a description in the State Papers (III. 155) of his expedition in 1539:
“and so with the host we set forward into the said country and took all the castles there and delivered them to Mr. Treasurer who hath warded the same … the said Lecayll is environed round about with the sea and no way to go by land into said country but only by the castle of Dundrome…. I assure your lordship I have been in many places and countries in my days and yet did I never see for so much a pleasanter plot of ground than the said Lecayll, for the commodity of the land and divers islands in the same environed with the sea which were soon reclaimed and inhabited….”
It was in this “reclaiming” that the Deputy ravaged the east coast, took Dundrum, and the castles of Lecale and Ards; profaned S. Patrick’s Church at Down, turning it into a stable and destroying the monuments of Patrick, Brigid, and Columcille, and “after plucked it down, and shipped the notable ring of bells that did hang in the steeple, meaning to have them sent to England: had not God of his justice prevented his iniquity by sinking the vessel and passengers.” Queen Mary restored Ardglass to the next Earl, Gerald, son of Silken Thomas, the boy who at his father’s capture had escaped “tenderly wrapped” in a turf-basket, and after long perils and sorrows and exile in Rome, Italy, and France, had at last returned, an obedient Angliciser under the Catholic queen (1553). Under Queen Elizabeth, who was in Irish belief illegitimate and a usurper, Shane O’Neill (1558-1567) cast out the English, and “forcibly patronised himself in all Lecale.” Ardglass seems to have come into the hands of the Irish, and trade was busy, for in Shane’s great cellars at Dundrum he was said to have commonly stored two hundred tuns of wine.
Thirty years after Shane’s death (1597), a plan for out-rooting the Irish and planting an English race was drawn up by a clergyman of “the Church of Ireland,” James Bell, Vicar of Christ Church in Dublin, and dedicated by him to Lord Burghley. He was the faithful representative of a political establishment, deep-stained with the blood and sorrow of the Irish. Here is his proposal, preserved in the British Museum:
“The Crown should divide the land into lots of 300 acres, at £5 yearly rent, for English undertakers, who should maintain 10 men (English) and 10 women, who now live in England by begging and naughty shifts; while single to have two acres, married, four acres of the 300—which was to be circumvallated by a deep trench or fosse…. If upon Tirone’s lands 2,000 English families be planted, her Majesty’s profit would at once be £10,000; besides, having 4,000 soldiers at hand without pay, for every two of the ten men should serve in turn three months each year—the act would be motherly and honourable for her Highness. To the bishops, there should be given, in fee simple, 1,200 acres, at £20 a year, upon every 300 acres of which the ten men and women are to be maintained, upon the like conditions; the inferior clergy, down to parson and curate, to have 600 acres upon proportionate rent and service. If her Majesty’s heart be moved by this device, there shall not be a beggar in England; a work of great profit, great strength, and great glory to the Queen, great love to her subjects, and singular mercy towards her meanest subjects, in that she giveth house and lands in Ireland to those that, in England, have not a hole to hide their heads in. The trench round about would barr Irish rebels coming suddenly trotting and jumping upon the good English subjects.”
In the proposed commonwealth no room for sustenance was left for the Irish people of the land, fenced off from every place of food. Loyal to her Majesty, James Bell was yet more loyal to the material predominance of his Church. Among farmers owning three hundred acres with ten families of labourers, the Church of Ireland was to have a stately position with its inferior curates owning twice as much as their best neighbours, and the bishops four times as much. It was but an act of gratitude.
“I will not say as Joshua and Caleb said, if the Lord have a favour unto us; but I will say, the Lord having a special love unto us, God hath given Ireland to her Majesty—a country most sweet, most wholesome, and most fruitful to dwell in; so full of springs, so full of rivers, so full of lakes, so full of fish, so full of cattle, and of fowl, that there is not a country upon the face of the earth more beneficial to the life of man.”
Thus plans of settlement and plantation were abroad when Mountjoy led his army over Lecale. The castle of Dundrum surrendered to him (1601).
“His Lordship … rode to Downpatrick, and thence by St. Patrick’s Well to Ardglass, being six miles, in which town two castles yielded to the Queen, and the warders, upon their lives saved, gave up their arms. A third castle there had been held for the Queen all the time of the Rebellion, by one Jordan, never coming out of the same for three years past, till now by his Lordship’s coming he was freed.”
This was the castle on the port, which was evidently provisioned from the sea, the only stronghold left in Ardglass for the English, and called Castle Jordan from its defender. After this subjection of Ardglass, Sir Richard Morrison, with five hundred foot and fifty horse, was left at Downpatrick as governor of Lecale, while Mountjoy carried on war against Tyrone.
A picture of life in a Lecale castle at this time has been left to us by Captain Josias Bodley, of Mountjoy’s army. From Armagh to Newry he journeyed through a famished country where for a whole year Chichester’s and Morrison’s troops had been employed in completely devastating the land, so that O’Neill should get provision neither for man nor horse; and the poverty he saw in Newry shows their success. Thence skirting the Mourne Mountains he stopped at the island stronghold of Magennis in the lake at Castlewellan, and passing through a land of ancient cromlechs and souterrains, of earthworks ringed and conical, and of early Norman castles, entered Lecale. The scene of the final merry-makings, the Governor’s Castle at Downpatrick, was probably the fort which stood at the foot of the hill, the last remains of which, a tall square tower, were removed a few years ago. It was evidently not unlike the castle at Ardglass, and life was the same in both of them. The stairs led first to the guard-room, with its dresser laden with dishes, and a wide fire-place where heavy pots hung from iron crooks, and cooks were busy with interminable cooking of the fish and fowls and game for which Lecale was famous, pasties of marrow and plums, Irish curds, and other dishes from France, there designated “Quelq’ choses” (“kickshaws”), which were reckoned “vulgar” by the English officers, as being perhaps too little substantial. Thence the stairs led to the large hall where in the huge fire-place logs were burning, even as in Castle Shane of Ardglass to-day, “the height of our chins, as the saying is.” The hall was comfortable, for of a night one may sit in the Ardglass room with the unglazed windows in the thick walls on every side, and the door open to the winding stairs, and no flicker of candles betrays a draught: the wind seems carried up the turret staircase through the roof. The company in the hall amused themselves with smoking, cards, backgammon, and dice. There was much drinking of healths—many political pledges no doubt as in modern Ulster, bitter tests to Irish companions when the English officers might call on a newly-submitted chief such as Magennis to join in a “loyal” toast: Bodley had apparently taken part in some scenes of scruple and silence on the part of honourable men, “of all things the most shameful,” he says. For any special entertainment the servants crowded into the same room as the masters—the cook’s wife, the scullion, and all; and played to amuse them a game still common in the north. There came, too, the Irish Mummers or Rhymers, making their Christmas rounds with torches and drums, wearing the traditional pointed caps, and carrying their profits in the base money, one part of silver to three of brass, which Elizabeth forced upon Ireland in favour of her avaricious Treasurer there, Sir George Carey. Of this money, such as it was, the Rhymers were “cleaned out” by the officers in a game of dice, and sent on their long walk home across Lecale two hours after the winter midnight, “without money; out of spirits; out of order; without even saying ‘Farewell’”—a strange contrast to the old Irish welcome to travellers and wandering players—a gallant hospitality at the Christmas time of English officers, for whom no season of mercy was sacred, and no obligation of honour, straight dealing, or courtesy binding so far as Irishmen were concerned. The rhymers may have sung as they took their way the fame of the hero-warrior of their people: “Were but the brown leaf which the wood sheds from it gold, were but the white billows silver, Finn would have given it all away.” They may have recalled the lament of the old Irish poet who saw the havoc made by “outlanders” of the ordered hospitality of Irish society. “At the end of the final world [there will be] a refuge to poverty and stinginess and grudging.” They could not see in the far future the open castle of Ardglass.
Cards, dice, drinking, and smoking filled up the time of the English visitors, with strolls of curiosity to the Wells and Chair of St. Patrick at Struel, or the huge entrenchments of Celtchair of the Battles. For the night there was a single sleeping-room above the hall, a bed-chamber “arranged in the Irish fashion” with a good and soft bed of down for the owner, and thin pallets thrown on the floor for the company. The dogs of Captain Constable shared the room with the rest, after the Yorkshire manner, leaping on the down bed and howling at their rejection.
When Morrison left Downpatrick there came Captain Edward Cromwell—descendant of Thomas Cromwell, minister of ill-fame to Ireland under Henry viii.—to be Governor of Lecale (1605): “this son of earth and foul spot on the human race,” by whose army the cathedral of Down was burned, and in that conflagration sacred monuments and very ancient writings; and many other churches too, very few of which have been since then restored. The very tombstones were used in building houses and fences; while the people watching lamented the devastation of what had been to them and their fathers “the place of their resurrection,” so that they might go in the fellowship of their saints “to the great assembly of Doom.” To Edward Cromwell the people gave the name “Maol-na-teampull” for his impiety, and numbers of men born in that terrible year of ruin reckoned their age over sixty years after from the days of his sacrilege, as if from a national visitation. In those days perhaps the Irish inhabitants were driven off the fertile land to the very rim of the sea, to set their cabins, as may still be seen, on the last refuge of the shingle itself round the Dundrum bay, or to cluster together on some bare crag.
After the wars of Mountjoy and of Cromwell and the plantations of their officers the fortunes of Lecale, as of all Ireland, declined. With the final ruin of the O’Neills the clouded title of the Fitzgeralds revived, in a dim shadow of their old pride. A branch of the family built, in the eighteenth century, a sober mansion over the “New Works” that had been raised when Ireland claimed her right to trade, and around the towers that marked ancient centuries of battle. Even there the old Fitzgerald fires of patriotism and indignation at inhuman wrong broke out anew. The character of Lord Edward Fitzgerald is as little comprehended as the spirit of his country. A Protestant brought up in the days of penal laws and Protestant ascendancy; a member of the great house of the Duke of Leinster in Ireland and the Duke of Richmond in England; trained in an army fighting for “the Empire” against American “rebels”; his life till twenty-seven was chiefly spent in France, America, and England, amid military and aristocratic society—conditions that have made many a man cosmopolitan, denationalised, and indifferent. The liberal traditions of his father, the first Duke of Leinster, had practically died with him when the boy was only ten. Ardently devoted to his family, there was not one of them, or one of his early friends, to whom he could speak of his national beliefs. And out of all this came the lover of the poor and the oppressed, the friend of all men, the intrepid martyr to the freedom of Catholic Ireland, dying alone in prison with a prayer for the salvation of all who died at the hangman’s hands for the sake of Ireland. No wonder that the people of Ardglass still show the tower chamber in the old castle which was searched for Lord Edward, the room in the great house where he was said to have hidden, the rude bridge that gave him shelter from the yeomanry, and the desolate site of Bone castle where he slept for one night, in an ancient possession of his family.
In the course of the gloomy years that followed the old house fell into decay. Last June (1911) the whole derelict property, long deserted by its landlords, both land and village, was sold for the benefit of English mortgagees and bought by local people. Nothing more “loyal” could be imagined than the apparent community of Ardglass—nothing more to the heart of the party in Down and Antrim of superiority and supremacy which claims sole right to a place in the sun. The Imperial flag flew from a high-lifted residence, on the site of two of the old forts. The FitzGerald house and demesne were bought by a golf club, reputed to be faithful above all to English interests. The old castle was bid for by a spirit-dealer of the right persuasion, as a suitable storage place for whiskey. Not a breath as to the destiny of Ardglass and its fishermen disturbed the peace of Orangemen and stalwart Protestants of the ascendancy.
It occurred, however, to a good Irishman and antiquary, a Protestant from Belfast, that there might be a nobler use for the Castle of Ardglass. He bought the castle. He replaced the vanished floors and ceilings with beams and boards of Irish timber. A few broken pieces of masonry were repaired. The inside walls were left in their rough state, merely dashed with white. At the door was laid the anvil of an Irish smith to be held between the knees, a stone with the centre cut out and fitted with iron. The great fire-places were filled with logs from a local plantation. Over the flaming fires huge pots steamed, hanging from iron crooks. Old Ulster ironwork for kitchen use hung round the hearth. A dresser, such as Captain Bodley might have seen, was stocked with pewter plates and old crockery, brought, like the ironwork, by willing givers who possessed any relic of Ireland of former days. Tables of Irish oak, and Irish carved benches of the old fashion, and Irish cupboards and settles furnished the rooms. They were lighted by Irish-made candles in the iron taper-holders of over a hundred years ago, by a very remarkable bronze chandelier of the eighteenth century, and by a still more striking floreated cross and circle of lights, made in the penal days by some local metal-worker with the ancient Irish tradition of ornament still with him. In the chief room a few old prints and portraits hung on the walls, amid new banners representing O’Neill, O’Donnell, and the black Raven of the Danes; most prominent of all, Shane O’Neill himself, standing proud in his full height in regal saffron kilt and flowing mantle, a fine design by a young Irish artist of Belfast. A tiny round-apsed oratory opened off this chief room. It was hung with golden Irish linen; between the lights on the altar stood a small crucifix of the penal times, and interlaced Irish patterns hung on the walls. The columbary in one of the towers, perhaps unique in early castles, with its seventy-five triangular recesses or resting-places for the pigeons built in the walls, and entries to north and south—one a square opening with sill inside and alighting slab outside, the other a space cut below the narrow window exactly the size through which a bird might pass—was again stocked with pigeons given by a local admirer, and the tower named after St. Columba. From a pole flew the flag of O’Neill, the Red Right Hand, in memory of old days. In three months the deserted ruin was transformed into a dwellinghouse, where Mr. Bigger and his helpers could sleep and cook and live. The workmen in a fury of enthusiasm worked as if a master’s eye was on them at every minute.
The design of the new owner was to bring the people of Ardglass and the Lecale of Down into touch with the Irish past, and give them some conception of the historic background of their life. For it must be remembered that through all conquests and plantations the people of the soil of Lecale have still remained of the old stock, an Irish people who have a natural country to love. For them there need be none of the perplexities which must confront those who in their successive generations of life in Ireland still consent to be designated by The Times as “the British Colony on the other side of St. George’s Channel.” I was present on the Saturday night when the ruin was opened to the people. There was no moon, and a gale was blowing down the Irish Sea—a wind from the north. A little platform was set against the sheltered west wall of the castle. A beacon flamed on one of the towers, and the ceremony began with a display of limelight pictures on the wall. I was in the middle of an audience packed as tight as men could stand in the castle yard and across the wide street. There had been no public announcements and no advertisement. But word had passed round the people of Lecale, and it seemed as if thousands had gathered under the resplendent stars. “I do not mean to show you,” said Mr. Bigger, “China or Japan; I mean to show you Ardglass.” The audience went wild with delight to see their fishermen and women, their local celebrities, the boats laden with fish, the piles on the pier, the Donegal girls packing them, the barrels rolled out to the tramp steamers. But the delight reached its utmost height at views of the sea taken from a boat out fishing, the dawn of day, the early flight of birds, the swell of the great waters. The appeal of beauty brought a rich answer from the Irish crowd.
Then there was Irish dancing and singing on the little platform, with the grey wall of the castle as a background and the waving ivy branches and tree shadows in the limelight, a scene of marvellous light and shade. But the great moment of all came when a huge Irish flag was flung out on the night wind from the Columba tower. I have never seen so magic a sight. Lights blazed from the castle-roof, rockets flamed across the sky, and in the midst suddenly appeared like a vision among the host of stars (for no flag-staff could be seen against the night-sky) a gleaming golden harp hanging secure in immensity, crossed and re-crossed by balls and flames of fire, so that it seemed to escape only by a miracle.
How did Ardglass and Lecale take this revival of its older fame? That sight was not less striking than the vision on the tower. Every cottage in the village had candles set in its windows. The fisher-boats in the harbour were alight; they flew flags too, and Irish flags, as many as could get them. For hours crowds climbed and descended the narrow winding staircase in the castle turret, lighted by candles fixed in old Ulster iron holders. They thronged the rooms, themselves the guardians of all the treasures lying on the benches and shelves and suspended on the walls. When they drew aside the light curtain before the oratory and entered in, they prostrated themselves, kneeling in prayer, and came out with tears in their eyes. Young men looked at Shane O’Neill, and looked again, and took off their hats. As in other Irish gatherings where I have been, sobriety and good manners distinguished the crowd, very visible and audible to me from my little hotel fronting the castle where the visitors flocked for refreshment, under my window opening on the one street of the village. Strangers dispersed about eleven o’clock, but men of the village sat round the fire of the old guard-room for hours after, singing songs of Ireland endlessly. There was no host, and no master of the ceremonies. The castle was left absolutely to the people. Anyone who would came in. They sang, and sang, the sorrowful decadent songs of modern Ireland—songs of famine, emigration, lamentation, and woe. But still they sang of Ireland.
The next day was Sunday. The parish priest, many years among his people, shared in the joy of the festival, in the new interest come to break the long monotony of their life, and in the widening and lifting of their emotion. He preached twice on the restoration to them of their castle, and on their duty to hold it sacred, and to act with courtesy and good breeding when they entered it. He gave the children freedom from Sunday School that they might see the Irish flag flown from the tower at noon; and boys and girls poured laughing down the street. All that day, from morning till night, without a pause, lines of village and country folk filed up and down the turret stairs, holding to the rope, kept taut by its old stone weight, that served as balustrade. Protestants were intermingled with Catholics, as one could see by the badges of their societies, in a common enthusiasm for the memories of the country which was theirs. Two admirable little girls of nine and fourteen installed themselves as handmaids and hostesses of the castle, and might be seen all day carrying water to the cauldron, making tea, giving hospitality to visitors—their first free service to Ireland. At night, men and women of the village came into the guard-room and banquet-hall, and sang and sang of Ireland. They did not even smoke. One after another sang till one o’clock. One or two sentimental ditties turned up, on Shannon’s shores and Killarney’s lakes, of the feeble artificial sort favoured by so-called “National Schools,” but these found little encouragement. Many evenings since, the guard-room has been filled with villagers, and singing and old-time lore abound. Many bring presents and leave them with scarce a word; and the old oratory has not been left without gifts and flowers. Nowhere has a pin been disturbed, or a trifle broken or injured. The battlements and the glorious view are a delight to all. They examine and point out to each other the old devices, the flint weapons and the bronze, the Celtic emblems and memorials, and the Elizabethan and Volunteer arms that lie about. The people have a new pride put in them, and are learning to be their own Conservators and Board of Works.
The Bishop of Ossory has lately given us all to understand that the Church of Ireland, boasting itself to be the highest, perhaps the sole, regenerating force in the country, is at this crisis altogether absorbed in anxious contemplation of the supposed danger from the people of Ireland to its property. A material preoccupation, at such a pitch, induces a multitude of unreasoning timidities, fantastic safeguards, and voluntary solitudes. It is true, indeed, that it was only “property” in a spiritual sense which the people of Ardglass had got that day. But in that higher sense they had been given that which every Irishman lacks—something of their own. No Englishman can picture to himself that lack. He has never had it. But with us it is an old story. If the people ask to learn Irish—“Here is arithmetic; that will suit you better.” They would like something of Irish history—“I assure you that it is German grammar which you really wish to ask for.” If the talk is of schools or fisheries—“The English Treasury will see that you do not waste money on school-house or steam trawler.” Their very names are not their own. A Belfast bank the other day refused the life-long signature on a cheque of a well-known Irish writer because he signed, in English letters indeed, but with his customary Irish spelling of Padraic, and required instead the conventional English Patrick. Who can tell the needless restrictions and trivialities and imposed fashions that check expansion, experiment, and freedom of mind? A dreary emptiness has been stretched over the vivid natures of Irishmen. What is there left for them to love? Is it any wonder they desire something they may call their own? It may be that “Loyalists” imagine that a longer continuance of such destitution will end at last in a lively passion for Englishmen and the Empire. Or, perhaps, it is the Unionist idea that an enforced apathy indefinitely continued will produce the fate that comes on men doomed to imprisonment for life in solitary confinement, when after long years thought and speech are gone, and idiot prisoners may mingle harmlessly together.
While the castle was repairing at Ardglass, an Irish visitor watched the fishermen leaning on the sea-wall. Every half-hour one might drop a word. They were passing the time as only fishermen know how. As to the castle, they looked as oblivious to it as to everything else. After watching for some time, the Irish visitor casually passed one of them, dropping an indifferent remark: “What’s the meaning of all this?” “It’s comin’,” said the fisherman. “We’re too long held in chains”—and fell back into silence.
Bodley’s visit to Lecale, preserved in a Latin MSS. in the British Museum, has been printed with a translation in the Old Ulster Journal of Archæology II. 73. The account is concerned with six officers of high rank and fame in the veteran army of Elizabeth. The writer, Captain Bodley, brother of the founder of the Bodleian Library at Oxford, was commanding officer at Armagh, commissioned to raise fortifications or entrenchments for the army—“a very honest fellow with a black beard,” he describes himself. His companion Captain Toby Caulfield, who had fought at Carlingford and Kinsale, was the first Governor in 1602 of the new fort of Charlemont, and Governor in 1603 of the counties of Armagh and Tyrone, where he made good use of his opportunities, a skilful appropriator of lands, who secured for himself grants in nine counties, and the wealth on which the earldom of Charlemont was established. Captain John Jephson had rescued the remnant of the British army caught in the pass of the Curlew Mountains in 1599: he gained the Mallow estate by marriage with the daughter of Norreys, President of Munster. Captain Adderton, whom they picked up on the way, had distinguished himself in the Wicklow wars, and was now Governor of the newly-built fort of Mount-norris, on the road from Armagh to Newry.
Their host at Downpatrick, Sir Richard Moryson, one of the chief friends of Mountjoy, had fought in Leix and at Kinsale, was now Governor of Lecale, and this same year (1603) was promoted Governor of Waterford, and later (1607), President of Munster. With him was Captain Ralph Constable, who had followed all his campaigns from Kinsale to the Blackwater.
Four of the six, Moryson, Bodley, Jephson, and Caulfield, had been comrades in the campaigns of the Low Countries a few years before, and were among the companies of soldiers which were drafted over from the Netherlands to Ireland to strengthen the armies of Essex and Mountjoy. They were men who prospered in Irish wars—keen soldiers, and as keen dividers of lands and offices in the new country, deeply concerned in plantations and confiscations.
An Account of a Journey of Captain Josias Bodley into Lecale
in Ulster, in the Year 1602 (properly 1603).
Good God! what have I taken on me to do? Truly I am an ass, otherwise I would never have undertaken so heavy a burthen; but no matter, I shall do what I can, like Coppinger’s female dog, who always took her own way.
I have taken in hand to recount what happened in a journey which Captain Caulfield, Captain Jephson, and I made to Lecale, to visit our friend Sir Richard Morrison, and divert ourselves there. And I shall narrate everything in due order; for order is a fair thing, and all love it, except the Irish men-at-arms, who are a most vile race of men, if it be at all allowable to call them “men,” who live upon grass, and are foxes in their disposition and wolves in their actions. But to our business: The aforesaid Master Morrison sent very kind letters to us, inviting us to keep the Nativity (which the English call “Christmas”) with him; but as Sir Arthur Chichester, the Sergeant-Major of the whole army, had convoked us with all our companies at that very moment to fight with Tyrone, who was then in the woods of Glenconkein with much cattle and few fighting men; we could not go at that time to Lecale, but joined the said Sir Arthur, and remained with him for sixteen or seventeen days in the field, without doing much harm to Tyrone: for that Tyrone is the worst rascal, and very wary and subtle, and won’t be beaten except on good terms. However, we fought him twice in the very woods, and made him run to his strongholds. So after leaving about that place a well-provided garrison, we each departed, with full permission and good will.
We now remembered the said invitation of Sir Richard and, after deliberation (for, in the commencement of affairs, deliberation should be used by those adventuring bold attempts, as Seneca says), we thought it good to go thither, although it was now eight days after the Nativity: because we did not doubt our being welcome though it had been Lent. This was resolved on in the city of Armagh, where there is a Governor, a very honest fellow with a black beard, who uses everyone well according to his poor ability, and would use them much better if he had more of the thing the English call “means.”
We set out from that city for the town commonly called Newry, which was one day’s journey. There, to speak the truth, we were not very well entertained, nor according to our qualities; for that town produces nothing but lean beef, and very rarely mutton; the very worst wine; nor was there any bread, except biscuits, even in the Governor’s house. However, we did our best to be merry and jocund with the bad wine, putting sugar in it (as the senior lawyers are used to do, with Canary wine)—with toasted bread, which in English is called “a lawyer’s nightcap.” There we found Captain Adderton, an honest fellow, and a friend of ours, who, having nothing to do, was easily persuaded to accompany us to Lecale.
So the next morning we four take horse and set out. We had no guide except Captain Caulfield, who promised he would lead us very well. But before we had ridden three miles we lost our way and were compelled to go on foot, leading our horses through bogs and marshes which were very troublesome; and some of us were not wanting who swore silently between our teeth, and wished our guide at a thousand devils. At length we came to some village of obscure name, where for two brass shillings we brought with us a countryman who might lead us to the Island of Magennis, ten miles distant from the town of Newry: for Master Morrison had promised he would meet us there.
The weather was very cold, and it began to roar dreadfully with a strong wind in our faces, when we were on the mountains, where there was neither tree nor house; but there was no remedy save patience. Captain Bodley alone had a long cloak with a hood, into which he prudently thrust his head, and laughed somewhat into himself to see the others so badly armed against the storm.
We now come to the Island of Magennis, where, alighting from our horses, we met Master Morrison and Captain Constable, with many others, whom, for the sake of brevity, I pass by. They had tarried there at least three hours, expecting our arrival, and, in the meantime, drank ale and usquebaugh with the Lady Sara, the daughter of Tyrone, and wife of the aforesaid Magennis; a truly beautiful woman: so that I can well believe these three hours did not appear to them more than a minute, especially to Master Constable, who is by nature very fond, not of women only, but likewise of dogs and horses. We also drank twice or thrice, and after we had duly kissed her, we each prepared for our journey.
It was ten or twelve miles from that island to Downpatrick, where Master Morrison dwelt; and the way seemed much longer on account of our wish to be there. At length, as all things have an end and a black pudding two (as the proverb hath it) we came by little and little to the said house. And now began that more than Lucullan entertainment, which neither Cicero, whose style in composition I chiefly imitate, (although Horace says, “O imitators! a slavish herd”), nor any other of the Latin or Greek authors, could express in suitable terms.
When we had approached within a stone’s throw of the house—or rather palace—of the said Master Morrison—behold! forthwith innumerable servants! some light us with pine-wood lights and torches because it is dark; others, as soon as we alight, take our horses, and lead them into a handsome and spacious stable, where neither hay nor oats are wanting. Master Morrison himself leads us by wide stairs into a large hall where a fire is burning the height of our chins, as the saying is; and afterwards into a bed chamber, prepared in the Irish fashion.
Here having taken off our boots, we all sit down and converse on various matters; Captain Caulfield about supper and food, for he was very hungry; Captain Constable about hounds, of which he had there some excellent ones, as he himself asserted; and the rest about other things. Master Morrison ordered a cup of Spanish wine to be brought, with burnt sugar, nutmeg, and ginger, and made us all drink a good draught of it, which was very grateful to the palate, and also good for procuring an appetite for supper, if anyone needed such.
In an hour we heard some one down in the kitchen calling with a loud voice “To the Dresser.” Forthwith we see a long row of servants, decently dressed, each with dishes of the most select meats, which they place on the table in the very best style. One presents to us a silver basin with the most limpid water; another hands us a very white towel; others arrange chairs and seats in their proper places. “What need of words, let us be seen in action” (as Ajax says in Ovid). Grace having been said, we begin to fix our eyes intently on the dishes, whilst handling our knives: and here you might have plainly seen those Belgian feasts, where, at the beginning is silence, in the middle the crunching of teeth, and at the end the chattering of the people. For at first we sat as if rapt and astounded by the variety of meats and dainties—like a German I once saw depicted standing between two jars, the one of white wine and the other of claret, with this motto: “I know not which way to turn.”
But after a short time we fall to roundly on every dish calling now and then for wine, now and then for attendance, everyone according to his whim. In the midst of supper Master Morrison ordered be given to him a glass goblet full of claret, which measured, (as I conjecture) ten or eleven inches roundabout, and drank to the health of all, and to our happy arrival. We freely received it from him, thanking him, and drinking one after the other, as much as he drank before us. He then gave four or five healths of the chief men, and of our absent friends, just as the most illustrious Lord, now Treasurer of Ireland, is used to do at his dinners. And it is a very praiseworthy thing, and has, perhaps, more in it than anyone would believe; and there was not one amongst us who did pledge him and each other without any scruple or gainsay, which I was very glad to see; for it was a proof of unanimity and assured friendship.
For there are many (a thing I can’t mention without great and extreme sorrow) who won’t drink healths with others; sitting, nevertheless, in the company of those who do drink, and not doing as they do; which is of all things the most shameful…. For, at table, he who does not receive whatsoever healths may be proposed by another, does so, either because he likes not the proposer, or he to whom they drink, or the wine itself. Truly I would not willingly have any dealings with him who under values either me or my friend, or lastly wine, the most precious of all things under heaven.
Let us now return to Lecale, where the supper (which, as I have said, was most elegant) being ended, we again enter our bedroom, in which was a large fire (for at the time it was exceedingly cold out of doors) and benches for sitting on; and plenty of tobacco, with nice pipes, was set before us. The wine also had begun to operate a little on us, and everyone’s wits had become somewhat sharper; all were gabbling at once, and all sought a hearing at once…. Amongst other things, we said that the time was now happily different, from when we were before Kinsale at Christmas of last year, when we suffered intolerable cold, dreadful labour, and a want of almost everything; drinking the very worst. We compared events, till lately unhoped for, with the past, and with those now hoped for. Lastly, reasoning on everything, we conclude that the verse of Horace (Ode 37, Book 1st) squares exceedingly well with the present time—namely, “that now is the time for drinking, that now is the time for thumping the floor with a loose foot.” Therefore, after a little Captain Jephson calls for usquebaugh, and we all immediately second him with one consent, calling out “Usquebaugh, usquebaugh”—for we could make as free there as in our own quarters.
Besides it was not without reason we drank usquebaugh; for it was the best remedy against the cold of that night, and good for dispersing the crude vapours of the French wine; and pre-eminently wholesome in these regions, where the priests themselves, who are holy men—as the Abbot of Armagh, the Bishop of Cashel, and others; and also noble men—as Henry Oge MacMahon, MacHenry—and men and women of every rank—pour usquebaugh down their throats by day and by night; and that not for hilarity only, which would be praiseworthy, but for constant drunkenness which is detestable.
Therefore, after everyone had drank two or three healths … what because of the assailing fumes of the wine which now sought our heads … we thought it right, as I have said, to rest for some hours. And behold, now, the great kindness that Master Morrison shows towards us. He gives up to us his own good and soft bed, and throws himself upon a pallet in the same chamber, and would not be persuaded by anything we could say, to lie in his own bed; and the pallet was very hard and thin, such as they are wont to have who are called “Palatine” of great heroes.
I need not tell how soundly we slept till morning, for that is easily understood, all things considered; at least if the old syllogism be true: “He who drinks well sleeps well.” We did not, however, pass the night altogether without annoyance: for the Captain’s dogs, which were very badly educated (after the Northern fashion) were always jumping on the beds, and would not let us alone, although we beat them ever so often, which the said Captain took in dudgeon, especially when he heard his dogs howling; but it was all as one for that; for it is not right that dogs, who are of the beasts, should sleep with men who are reasoning and laughing animals, according to the philosophers…. Before we get out of bed they bring to us a certain aromatic of strong ale, compounded with sugar and eggs (in English “caudle”) to comfort and strengthen the stomach, they also bring beer (if any prefer it) with toasted bread and nutmeg, to allay thirst, steady the head, and cool the liver; they also bring pipes of the best tobacco to drive away rheums and catarrhs.
We now all jump quickly out of bed, put on our clothes, approach the fire, and, when all are ready, walk abroad together to take the air, which, in that region, is most salubrious and delightful, so that if I wished to enumerate all the advantages of the place, not only powers (of description), but time itself would be wanting. I shall therefore omit that, as being already known, and revert to ourselves, who, having now had a sufficient walk, returned to our lodging as dinner time was at hand. But how can we tell about the sumptuous preparation of everything? How about the dinners? How about the dainties? For we seemed as if present (as you would suppose) at the nuptial banquet to which some Cleopatra had invited her Antony; so many varieties of meat were there, so many kinds of condiments; about every one of which I would willingly say something, only that I fear being too tedious. I shall therefore demonstrate from a single dinner, what may be imagined of the rest. There was a large and beautiful collar of brawn, with its accompaniments—to wit, mustard and Muscadel wine; there were well-stuffed geese, … the legs of which the Captain always laid hold of for himself; there were pies of venison and of various kinds of game; pasties also, some of marrow, with innumerable plums; others of it with coagulated milk; others which they call tarts, of divers shapes, materials and colours, made of beef, mutton and veal. I do not mention because they are reckoned vulgar, other kinds of dishes, wherein France much abounds, and which they designate “Quelq’choses” [“Kickshaws”]. Neither do I relate anything of the delicacies which accompanied the cheese, because they would excel all belief. I may say in one word, that all things were there supplied us most luxuriously and most copiously. And lest anyone might think that God had sent us the meat, but the Devil the Cook (as the proverb says), there was a cook there so expert in his art that his equal could scarce be found….
If you now inquire whether there were any other amusements, besides those I have related, I say an infinite number, and the very best. For if we wished to ride after dinner, you would have seen forthwith ten or twelve handsome steeds with good equipments and other ornaments, ready for the road. We quickly mount, we visit the Well and Chair of St. Patrick [Struel], the ancient Fort [Rath-Celtair], or any other place according to our fancy; and at length returning home, cards, tables, and dice are set before us, and amongst other things that Indian tobacco (of which I shall never be able to make sufficient mention), and of which I cannot speak otherwise.
And now once more to our Lecale, where amongst other things that contributed to hilarity, there came one night after supper certain maskers belonging to the Irish gentry, four in number (if I rightly remember). They first sent in to us a letter marked with “the greatest haste,” and “after our hearty commendations,” according to the old style, saying that they were strangers, just arrived in these parts, and very desirous of spending one or two hours with us; and leave being given, they entered in this order: first a boy, with a lighted torch; then two, beating drums; then the maskers, two and two; then another torch. One of the maskers carried a dirty pocket handkerchief, with ten pounds in it, not of bullion, but of the new money lately coined, which has the harp on one side, and the royal arms on the other.
They were dressed in shirts, with many ivy leaves sewed on here and there over them; and had over their faces masks of dog-skin; with holes to see out of, and noses made of paper; their caps were high and peaked (in the Persian fashion), and were also of paper, and ornamented with the same (ivy) leaves.
I may briefly say we play at dice. At one time the drums sound on their side; at another the trumpet on ours. We fight a long time a doubtful game; at length the maskers lose, and are sent away cleaned out. Now whoever hath seen a dog, struck with a stick or a stone, run out of the house with his tail hanging between his legs, would have (so) seen these maskers going home: without money; out of spirits; out of order; without even saying “Farewell”; and they said that each of them had five or six miles to go to his home, and it was then two hours after midnight.
I shall now tell of another jest or gambol, which amongst many, the domestics of Master Morrison exhibited for us. Two servants sat down after the manner of women (with reverence be it spoken) when they “hunker,” only that they (the servants) sat upon the ground: their hands were tied together in such a manner that their knees were clasped within them; and a stick placed between the bend of the arms and the legs, so that they could in no way move their arms; they held between the thumb and forefinger of either hand a small stick, almost a foot in length, and sharp at the farther end. Two are placed in this way: the one opposite the other at the distance of an ell. Being thus placed they engage; and each one tries to upset his opponent, by attacking him with his feet; for being once upset, he can by no means recover himself, but presents himself to his upsetter for attack with the aforesaid small stick. Which made us laugh so for an hour, that the tears dropped from our eyes; and the wife of Philip the cook laughed, and the scullion, who were both present. You would have said that some barber-surgeon was there to whom all were showing their teeth.
But enough of these matters; for there would be no end of writing, were I to recount all our grave and merry doings in that space of seven days.
I shall therefore make an end both of the journey and of my story. For on the seventh day from our arrival we departed, mournful and sad; and Master Morrison accompanied us as far as Dundrum; to whom each of us bid farewell, and again farewell, and shouting the same for a long way, with our caps raised above our heads, we hasten to our quarters, and there we each cogitate seriously over our own affairs.