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ANTRIM AND DOWN
JOURNEYING from the Giant’s Causeway to Belfast and Dublin, through the north-eastern counties of Antrim and Down, one comes upon a region little known to the casual traveller, who is usually smitten at once with the charms of Killarney and the South, and who neglects this more conveniently and comfortably traversed region.
Truth to tell, the large centres of population of Dublin and Belfast, and sundry visitors from the “Midlands” of England, have appropriated it as their own playground, and, “in the season,” are found here in large numbers.
This need be no detraction from the charms of the region, which, if not historically and picturesquely possessed of the same qualities as the middle and south of Ireland, at least has the advantage of being an unworn road to the majority of travellers.
Drogheda, on the estuary of the river Boyne, is the first happy hunting-ground for the student of history and architecture, after he leaves the immediate environs of Dublin itself.
Drogheda is at once ancient and modern. Its shops and factories, its shipping and its tramways, are evidences of that modernity which is ever obtrusive in an old-world shrine of history.
Drogheda, according to one authority, was formerly called Tredagh, and originally Imbbar Colpa. “It is so very ancient that it is supposed to have been founded by Heremon, one of the sons of Milesius, who, having arrived from Spain with Heber and his other brothers at Imbbar Sceine (Bantry Bay), was subsequently separated from Heber by a storm, and, while Heber regained the Kerry coast, Heremon, after innumerable hardships, put into Drogheda, where he effected a landing, but with the loss of his brothers and Colpa, the swordsman, who perished in the bay, and from which circumstance the town derived its name.” Thus writes Anthony Marmion, in his “History of the Maritime Ports of Ireland.” “There can be no doubt,” he continues, “that an eastern colony of Mithraic, or sun-worshippers, had been early established in the neighbourhood of Drogheda.” Coming, however, to less remote and fabulous happenings, Drogheda, whose Irish name was Droiceheadatha, the Bridge of the Ford, was taken by Turgesius the Dane in 911, and made a stronghold for raids into the surrounding country. Its importance was also recognized by the Anglo-Normans, who built a bridge across the Boyne at this point. The most celebrated military event in the town’s history was its siege and capture by Cromwell in 1649.
The walls and gates, so unusual in Ireland, were formerly a line of defence a mile and a half or more in circumference, and, from the very substantial remains of the St. Laurence Gate and the West or Butler Gate, it may be inferred that they were a wonderfully effective defence, sharing with the walls of Derry the glory of being the most elaborate works of their kind in Ireland.
The most curious architectural embellishment of Drogheda is the famous Magdalen steeple — all that remains of the Dominican Abbey founded in 1224 by the Archbishop of Armagh, whose remains lie buried in the ruins.
Here, in 1395, Richard II. of England held court, and within the building four Irish princes did homage to the king, and were knighted by him. Cromwell’s cannon razed the building until only the grim, gaunt tower or steeple was left. A sepulchral cairn of stone, known as the Mill Mount, appears to have been the ancient citadel of Drogheda. A mythical hero of the prechristian era, “Ghoban the Smith,” is supposed to have been buried here.
North of the Boyne estuary is Dundalk Bay, in itself a beautifully disposed body of water which, if not possessed of the ruggedness of the fiords of Western Ireland, is in every way an attractive setting for Dundalk itself, which is mostly a town of one long vertebrate street along which short spines radiate for a brief distance and lose themselves in the background of hills or in the strand of the sea.
Edward Bruce, the brother of the Scottish Robert, stormed Dundalk after Bannockburn, and lived here, after taking the town, for two years. He died in the engagement fought near Dundalk with the English army, in 1318.
In 1649 Monk held the town for the king against Cromwell.
At the head of Carlingford Lough is Newry, pleasantly situated in a valley overlooked by the Carlingford Mountains. It is one of the most ancient towns in the island, being famed even in Irish bardic literature. It was also the seat of a monastery, where St. Patrick himself, it is said, planted a yew-tree, referred to in no complimentary strain in Swift’s satiric couplet:
“High Church, low steeple,
Dirty streets, and proud people.”
Newry took to itself the admonition, cleaned itself up in later years, and has become in all respects a flourishing modern town.
A Cistercian abbey was founded here in 1175, according to the “Monasticum Hibernica,” but no remains exist to-day to suggest its former importance.
Rostrevor is the chief tourist centre of Carlingford Lough. It is confidently claimed by many to be the most popular resort in all Ireland, which it evidently is.
Moreover, it is a marvellously pretty place of the stage-scenery order, but its attractions are somewhat exaggerated. Its popularity is accounted for by its accessibility to Dublin and Belfast, whose work-worn habitants flee here in large numbers, in season and out. Rostrevor, as might be expected, has its popular legend also. It runs as follows:
“The Bell of St. Bronach, now to be seen on the altar of the Catholic Chapel, has a strangely romantic history. There is a ruined Church of Kilbroney on the hillside, not far from the town. For hundreds of years, the legend of a fairy bell had been current about Kilbroney. It was said that, whenever misfortune threatened the town, the note of a strange, silvery, unearthly sounding bell echoed through the forests. Many heard the bell, but no one succeeded in solving the mystery, or indeed, ever suspected that there was any solution save a supernatural one. In the end of the eighteenth century, however, an ancient tree was blown down, and, in its hollow heart, was found a bronze church-bell of immense size and of great antiquarian value. It was this bell, hidden in the heart of the tree many centuries before, that had sounded its note of death and terror, whenever a storm of unusual force rocked the great tree in whose depths it lay concealed. No doubt it had been hidden in the tree for safety, during some raid of pagan tribes, and by accident, or through the death of the pious ecclesiastic who concealed it, was never removed.”
Carlingford itself, and the celebrated beauty of the Lough, will ever appeal to all lovers of nature and romantic associations.
The great attraction is Carlingford Castle, one of King John’s Irish fortresses, erected in 1210 by De Courcy at the king’s bidding. Some ruined castles are interesting, some rather the reverse. Carlingford Castle belongs to the former class. The courtyard, with its walls eleven feet in thickness, and galleries fitted with recesses for archers at each loop-hole; the curious little secret chamber, which one may reach by climbing up a wall, and through a mass of tangled ivy; the spiral staircase winding up to an airy battlemented height; all these are as interesting as they are picturesque. Underground, there is a range of small, gloomy dungeons, hewn out of the solid rock, where many a gallant life must have been worn away in bitter agony and despair, seven centuries ago, in those times when chivalry and romance were inextricably mixed with brutality. Just above the dungeon-cells runs the ruined stone terrace, looking out to sea, where (tradition says) the lords and ladies who accompanied King John to Ireland used to walk up and down of a summer evening, in the cool of the sunset wind. This of course is most probable, and it is perhaps a not unusual proceeding, still it is pleasant to recall. The lute must often have sounded across the waters of the lough in those golden evening hours, the careless laugh rung out, the silken cloak swung, and the gauzy veil fluttered from the high “sugar-loaf” head-dress, within sound of clanking chains, and cries from half-maddened, famishing, and tortured wretches below. One need go no deeper into history than any account of King John, to understand what kind of treatment his prisoners were likely to receive.
Greenore, at the mouth of Carlingford Lough, is the key to the passenger traffic between England and Belfast, Londonderry, Enniskillen, and other places in the north and northwest of Ireland. It is a remarkable fact that the strategic importance of Carlingford Lough should be thus recognized in a peaceful fashion at the end of the nineteenth century; for one recalls that the ruined castles at Carlingford and Greencastle were built by the Anglo-Normans, at the close of the twelfth and beginning of the thirteenth centuries, to protect their lines of communication when invading, in a far different and more tragic fashion, the hills and dales of Ulster. The frowning ruins of Carlingford Castle still seem to guard the western shore of the lough, while the fortress of Greencastle, on the eastern shore, commands a glorious view from its lofty battlements.
Greenore supposedly presents many attractions for the tourist, but they are mainly of the kind set forth in the tourist programmes of the shipping companies and the railways, and, in fact, they are but of the conventional variety, though it is only fair to say they are here perused under very attractive and charming conditions. But the various journeyings of the collaborators to this volume were not for the sake of sea-bathing, golf, or tennis; hence Greenore is now dismissed — and gladly.
The railway runs the length of Carlingford Lough, along the base of Carlingford Mountain, which rises to nearly two thousand feet, to Newry at the head of the Lough, where, on a rock which projects into the river, stands Narrow Water Castle, built in 1663 on the site of a thirteenth-century edifice erected by Hugh de Lacy.
Ardglass, between Carlingford and Belfast Loughs, is seldom heard of in literature or the news items of the daily press; but it is a quaint little town of half a thousand inhabitants situated on the seacoast, with Dundrum Bay and the Mourne Mountains of County Down for a background.
Once it was the chief port of Ulster (its name, Ard-glas, means the green height), and was so important a town that it was guarded by seven castles, but one of which, Jordan’s Castle, is to-day in any state of preservation.
Grave of St. Patrick, Downpatrick
The county town of Down is Downpatrick. It is ancient and historic, and has a prospect, on the river Quoile, which shows off its imposing cathedral in a most pleasing manner.
The native Kings of Ulster had their residence here before the coming of Christianity. The town was known anciently to Ptolemy, who called it Dunum.
The religious foundation of the place dates from 432 to 440, when St. Patrick established the see and the Abbey of Saul of the Canons Regular, who was superceded in 1183, a few years after the town was taken by John de Courcy, by the Benedictines.
The cathedral of to-day is a rehabilitation of an ancient ecclesiastical building, though to all appearances it is a comparatively modern work and is often credited as such.
Locally, great importance is naturally attached to the supposed fact that Downpatrick is the burial-place of St. Patrick, and a rough, unhewn boulder marks the spot in the churchyard where his bones rest — or do not rest, for there is great and constant doubt as to whether this is really so or not. However, there are, it is to be presumed, many who would like to believe they had visited such a hallowed spot, and perhaps for this reason the want has been supplied.
Moreover, in the old church which stood on the site of the present cathedral, which Harris, the antiquarian, described in 1744, there was an inscription in monkish Latin which, translated, reads:“Three saints do rest upon this holy hill,
St. Patrick, Bridget, and Columbkille.”
This would seem to justify in a measure the claim, though the rhyme is pretty bad.
Jeremy Taylor was for a time Bishop of Down, as was also Thomas Percy, celebrated for his famous edition of the “Reliques of Ancient Poetry.”
There are many historical and ecclesiastical remains in the immediate neighbourhood, including the Cistercian Abbey of Inch, founded in 1187 by John de Courcy, and the celebrated Wells of Struell, supposedly of great virtue for the lame, the halt, and the blind. To-day their efficacy seems somewhat dimmed, as one does not hear of any remarkable cures which have recently taken place.
About the only convenient way to reach Armagh, — Ireland’s most ancient and famous seat of learning, — when making the coast tour of the north of Ireland, is from Belfast.
Armagh, about which so much has been written by all manner of pen-wielders, and about which so much is yet destined to be written, is one of the most attractive towns in Ireland, albeit it is not on the seacoast or on an important waterway.
Newcastle, in the minds of many, is merely the home of “The best golf-links in Ireland.” This is perhaps a sign of the advanced age in which we live, but Newcastle, forty miles north of Dublin, can lay claim to more than that.
Newcastle, as a tourist point and “a beauty-spot,” really exists by means of, and on account of, Slieve Donard, the highest mountain in Ulster, which hangs its 2,796 feet right over the little seacoast town, and provides non-golfing visitors with a continual field for pleasant excursions. The beautiful estate of Donard Lodge lying on the slope of the mountain is, too, a great attraction, as also are Castlewellan, the seat of the Earl of Annesley, and the Earl of Roden’s domain of Tollymore Park; and as these three estates enclose or command most of the beautiful mountain and forest scenery for which Newcastle is noted, they really form the irresistible attractions of the place. The whole range of the beautiful blue Mourne Mountains can be seen from Castlewellan, which lies on the side of Slieve-na-Slat.
Not far from Newcastle is Rostrevor, a pretty little village with a church-spire nestling among the trees and overhanging the picturesque coast-line of Carlingford Lough.
Much morbid interest is usually awakened by the recollection of certain events which took place in the neighourhood. At Bloody Bridge was a terrible massacre in 1641; Mourne Park and Mourne Abbey are generally famous spots; the village of Killowen, from which the late Lord Russell of Killowen chose his title, contains the house where Pat Murphy, the Irish giant, was born, and the ruined chapel where the celebrated Yelverton marriage took place in 1861.
Many will recall the details of this famous cause célèbre. Pretty Miss Longworth, a Roman Catholic girl of high family, met and was loved by the Protestant Major Yelverton, whom she nursed in the Crimea. A secret marriage was arranged after both had returned to Ireland, and a hurried journey was made from Waterford to Rostrevor. They rowed down the lough to the little chapel next morning, and were married by the parish priest. In after years came the desertion of the bride and an action for maintenance, which was decided by an Irish jury in the lady’s favour, but subsequently reversed by the House of Lords. Probably no mixed-marriage case ever excited so much interest in the three kingdoms, and even yet the chapel and the village are inextricably associated with this sad story of love and betrayal.