Wicklow by Grace Greenwood


After leaving Limerick, we returned to Dublin, and there took a carriage, for a little tour in the neighboring county of Wicklow.

Wicklow has been called "The Garden of Ireland," for the beauty of its scenery and the high cultivation of a large portion of its lands. It is full of romantic valleys and streams, lakes, glens, and waterfalls—varied by rugged, untamable wilds, and bleak, barren mountains.

We first visited "the Dargle," or Glenislorane River, upon Lord Powerscourt's domain. This would be thought "a small specimen" of a river with us, as, except when the waters are swollen with a freshet, it is but a narrow and shallow mountain stream. But in Ireland it passes at such times for a mighty torrent, and at all times is greatly admired and respected.

It runs very rapidly, with bright sparkles and pleasant murmurs, down a deep rocky ravine, whose jagged sides are overgrown with moss and ferns, and overhung with luxuriant foliage.

A path leads up the glen to the waterfall. This is considered by the people here a sublime and magnificent cataract, and it is very fine in its way, and abundantly makes up in beauty for what it lacks in awfulness; it is a charming thing to look at, and listen to, and ramble about; and though it does not thunder and plunge and roar, like Niagara, it glads the hearts of all who behold it—it manufactures quite as radiant bows in the sunshine, and makes soft, musical, lulling sounds enough to soothe all the peevish and restless children in the world to sleep.

The entire descent at this fall is said to be about three hundred feet; but it is only when the stream has been reinforced and encouraged by heavy winter rains, that it takes the whole great jump at once.

The next stopping-place of much interest was Glendalough, which means, "The Glen of the Two Lakes." This is usually called "The Valley of the Seven Churches;" for here, in a very small space, are the ruins of that number of rude little churches, and several other edifices, most of them said to have been built as early as the sixth century, by St. Keven.

The place reminds one of "The Valley of the Shadow of Death," in "Pilgrim's Progress," and it is hard to believe that any thing like a "city" ever stood on so gloomy and desolate a spot. Yet history says so; and it is certain the O'Tooles and MacTooles, for centuries kings of all this region, lived here, or near here, in old-fashioned Irish state, and were buried generation after generation of them in the Church of Rhefeart.

The two lakes are small and quiet; but the water seems very deep, and is remarkably dark-colored. There is something really awful in the look of the lower lake, which is shut in by steep black mountains. On the side of one of these, Lugduff, about thirty feet above the water, is a singular little cave, which looks as though it had been hewn from the solid rock, and is called St. Keven's Bed. The legend about it is, that when St. Keven was a handsome young man of twenty, he made up his mind to be a priest, and a saint—so, gave up all thoughts of love and marriage, and devoted himself to a life of loneliness, privation, and penance. It unluckily happened that a certain noble young lady, named Kathleen, (the last name has not come down to us—perhaps it was O'Toole,) took a great fancy to him, and offered him her hand, with a very respectable property. To her surprise and mortification, he not only did not accept, but actually ran away from her. He went to Glendalough, then a wilderness, and scooped out this little den in the rock—a place very difficult of access, both from the mountain and the lake. Here he hid, laughing to himself that he had outwitted Kathleen. But, one morning, he was wakened by hearing his name called, very softly, and opening his eyes, who should he see but Miss Kathleen, standing at the opening of the little cave, and smiling at him—as much as to say, "Ah, you rogue, you see you can't escape me."

Shocked at the impropriety of her conduct, and provoked at being found out, he put his feet against her, and kicked her into the lake! where, I am sorry to say, she drowned in a very short time. In our day, there would have been a hue and cry raised—a coroner's inquest—a great talk in the newspapers—a trial—and, if the jury agreed, a hanging; but there was nothing of the kind in that benighted time—nobody arrested Keven, or punished him, and he went on his pious way in peace, building churches and monasteries, and working miracles, or what passed for such, till he got to be a very famous saint indeed. But my opinion is, that it took more than the working of all the miracles assigned to him, and the building of those miserable little edifices at Glendalough, to atone for the drowning of that poor, foolish girl, Kathleen.

Mr. and Mrs. S. C. Hall, in their admirable work On Ireland, give several other anecdotes, told by their guide, Wynder, which illustrate the saint's goodness of heart in rather an improbable way. "One day, when he had retired to keep the forty days of Lent, in fasting, meditation, and prayer, as he was holding his hand out of the window, a blackbird came and laid her four eggs in it; and the saint, pitying the bird, and unwilling to disturb her, never drew in his hand, but kept it stretched out until she had brought forth her young, and they were fully fledged and flew off with a chirping quartette of thanks to the holy man, for his convaynience." Another is of "how he was once going up Derrybawn, when he met a woman that carried five loaves in her apron. 'What have you there, good woman?' said the saint. 'I have five stones,' said she. 'If they are stones,' said he, 'I pray that they may be bread; and if they are bread, I pray that they may be stones.' So with that, the woman let them fall; and sure enough, stones they were, and stones they are to this day." Our guide told us this same anecdote, in a queer, half jesting, half believing way, and pointed out the stones to us. I thought to myself that if they had not been stones in the first place, they must have been very heavy bread—too hard fare even for a saint.

We clambered up the rock, and crawled into the cave, which we found all carved and written over with names—among them a few of distinguished persons, such as Thomas Moore, Maria Edgeworth, Mr. and Mrs. S. C. Hall, and Walter Scott.

After leaving Glendalough, we visited the "Sweet Vale of Avoca," which the poet Moore has rendered famous by a song, called "The Meeting of the Waters."

It is a little green valley, in which meet two streams—the Avonmore and the Avonbeg—a pretty place enough, but hardly coming up to Mr. Moore's description.

The next day we explored "The Devil's Glen," an exceedingly beautiful place, for all its naughty name. It is somewhat like the Dargle, but more wild and romantic. It also has its rugged hills, its stream, and its waterfall—or its mountains, river, and cataract; as, being in a foreign country, I suppose we should be polite enough to call them, instead of letting ourselves be carried away by conceit in our Mississippis and Niagaras, and being "stuck up" on our Alleghanies and Mount Washingtons.

Our last day in Wicklow was spent at the beautiful and romantic country seat of Sir Philip Crampton, or Lough Bray, a wild, lonely little mountain lake, whose shores are all black peat, or barren rock, except where flourish the pleasant plantations and shrubberies of Sir Philip, growing upon manufactured ground, and looking like the enchanted gardens we read of in fairy tales.

The Lough is a smooth dark sheet of water, so deep in the centre that it cannot be sounded. There is a pretty pebbly beach at one end, and all around the other shores the waves make a peculiar musical sound against the precipitous rocks. It is a charming little lake for boating, and in fine weather, Sir Philip Crampton always gives his guests the pleasure of a trip in his pretty row-boat. There are great numbers of duck and other water-fowl about the lake, which Sir Philip, who is a kind, genial, delightful old gentleman, has tamed, by feeding them with crumbs of bread, which he always carries about him when he goes on the water. No sooner does he make his appearance, than his winged pets are after him in flocks, all clamoring eagerly for their "daily bread."

Sir Philip Crampton told me that when his friend, Sir Walter Scott, was at Lough Bray, on his last visit, a boat excursion was proposed. Sir Walter had always been passionately fond of boating, and now his eye brightened, and he smiled gladly at the thought of his favorite amusement. But just as the party were about stepping into the boat, Mrs. Scott, Sir Walter's young daughter-in-law, drew back, and declared that she was afraid to go. Everybody urged her and reasoned with her, but she could not be persuaded—she would not go—she would stay where she was. Sir Walter did not seem at all vexed with her, though he laughed at her childish fears, but insisted on staying with her; and as the boat pushed off, he sat down on the shore beside her, and plucked flowers for her hair, and tried his best to entertain her—the good, kind great man! When the laughter and songs of his merry friends came to him across the water, he would smile cheerily, and wave his hat to them, and never once said how sorry he was not to be with them. I have heard many noble things about Sir Walter Scott, but nothing that speaks better for his generous, tender heart, than this little anecdote.

I should like to describe further this strange and charming place, but I fear I have no room for any more descriptions of scenery. I will now try to give you some idea of the fairy lore and superstitions of this part of Ireland.

The fairies, or "good people," according to the belief of the peasants, are not confined to any locality; they are all over the country, wherever they can find pleasant, secluded nooks, flowers, and green grass. Their meeting-places are said to be the "Raths," which are singular artificial mounds, supposed to have been built by the Danes, away back in the heathen ages. Fairies have the reputation of being in general good-humored and kindly, though full of merry pranks and frolicsome tricks; yet the peasants are very careful not to offend them by intruding upon their haunts at night, or speaking disrespectfully of their little mightinesses—for they say, "they have tempers of their own, and not having a Christian idication, can't be blamed for not behaving in a Christian-like fashion—poor craturs."

The Phooka is said to be a half-wicked, half-mischievous spirit, who takes the form of many strange animals, but oftenest assumes that of a wild horse. His great object then, is to get a rider, and when he has persuaded a poor fellow to mount him, he never lets him off till he has treated him to a ride long and hard enough to last him his lifetime. Over bogs and moors, ditches and walls, across streams, up and down mountains, he gallops, leaps, and plunges, making the welkin ring with his horrible horse-laugh, and snorting fire from his nostrils.

There is a funny story told of one Jerry Deasy, who paid the Phooka well for such a ride. The next night, he provided himself with a "shillalah," or big stick, and put on a pair of sharp spurs, and when the Phooka appeared, and invited him to take another little excursion, he mounted, and so belabored the head and cut up the sides of the beast, that he was quite subdued, and trotted home, with Jerry, to his own cabin door.

The "Banshee" is a gloomy, foreboding spirit, of rather aristocratic tastes, as she is only attached to highly respectable old families. She never appears but to announce some great misfortune, or the death of a member of the household. She does this by howling and shrieking in the night; and sometimes, they say, she is seen—a tall, pale woman, in long white robes, with black hair flying in the wind.

The most amusing of these supernatural creatures is the Leprehawn, or Luriceen, or Clericaune, the brogue-maker of the "good people." This fairy cobbler is said to have inexhaustible concealed treasure; and sometimes, when he is busily at work, he is surprised and caught. Then he can be made to give up his riches, if his captor keeps his eye fixed on him all the time. But he is almost sure to divert attention, and then is off like a flash.