Caesar Otway, A Tour in Connaught [... &c.] (1839)

Source: Text available at Internet Archive [online; accessed 18.11.2009.
Note: The conjunction of a story about a hen and the tale of the ‘heir of Howth [...] carried when stolen by the O’Mal[l]eys’ suggests a possible source of motifs in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Can he have read Otway on the Joyce Country? And, if so, when, and in what form did he record or otherwise remember it?


In offering the following “Sketches in Connaught,” the result of a short excursion made in that province during the early part of last summer, I assign one or two excuses for adding to the numerous works of a similar character that have latterly come before the public, and which, to use the words of the greatest of all publishers, have “worn the subject threadbare.”

My first plea is, that my volume had not been got up for the purpose of leading or misleading public opinion respecting Irish politics or economics. I aim not at being the precursor of any change, or the promoter of any speculation. The tour I took for my pleasure, and the volume I wrote at my leisure, and during those evenings when I allow myself to relax from the more serious occupations [v] of the morning. My own pastime, I offer to the public, if it so pleases them, as part of theirs; and all my hope is, that the reader will think better of Ireland than he will do of the author. The other reason why I publish is, that I write as a native, who has made the history, antiquities, traditionary lore, and social relations of the island, his study, and therefore may be supposed to be competent to afford information on subject not exactly within the convenient reach of an American or Briton. In a word, I assume that my ARTICLE is what an extern would not, and, perhaps, if he could, would not supply.

About ten years ago a volume of mine, purporting to be “Sketches in the North and South of Ireland,” was published, and though appearing under many disadvantageous circumstances, met with a favourable reception from the public; and therefore my publishers have not only determined to venture on the present speculation, but also contemplate a new edition of the former work.

It is but fair to state, that the three first chapters of the present volume have already, with some alteration, appeared in print; the two first under a different signature and form, in that humble though useful conveyance of popular knowledge, the Dublin Penny [vi] Journal, to the first volume of which I was a contributor. The third chapter, descriptive of Clonmacnoise, though now consideably changed, has appeared in the Dublin Christian Examiner.

The reader who is about to give these sketches his perusal is hereby warned, that I neither set down distances, nor attempt to describe or even notice every town or place I passed through. These details I leave to be supplied by a valuable road book, lately compiled by Mr. Fraser, and published by William Curry and Co. Sackville-street.

Dublin, May 18 1839.

Chapter X: “The Joyce Country” (pp.227ff.)
Road to Joyce country - Lough Mask - Its great beauty - Lough Corrib - Full of holy islands - Drive along the Lake - Castle Hen - Inquiry con cerning it - Description of my informant - Her legend - The O’Flahertys and Joyces - Maam Inn - Alexander Nimmo and his brother - Another description of Castle Hen, and story - A driver’s cruelty - Thomassheen’s revenge - Lac na Fecheen - Awful consequences - Driver’s destruction - A ruxion at a fair - Thomassheen’s retreat - Another account of Castle Hen - Population and state of Joyce country - Anecdote of a potteen smuggler - Another smuggler story, to keep the first company, and which casts a light on Connaught and its gentry fifty years ago.
The road from Cong to Maam Inn passes over the ridge of high land that divides Lough Mask from Lough Corrib, and you see the best and most pic- turesque ends of both waters.
 Across Lough Mask you see a succession of lofty and variously formed mountains, with all their glens and gorges, and pushing out their great shoulders into the lake; and you see wooded islands and grey cliffs, and between two dark headlands a long lonely inlet running far away amongst the hills, up which you desire to sail and to explore, where, no doubt, are sweet solitary vales untrodden yet by guides and tourists; and then on the other side, towards the south, the broad expanse of Lough Corrib, the second largest lake in Ireland - a water thirty miles in length, flat and uninteresting, no doubt, in some places, as indeed almost all Irish and Scotch lakes are where their superfluity is discharged by some river - but up here to the north, having the mountains of Connemara, and Joyce [227] country to the west, and very lofty hills that rise to the east, and separate it from the Galway lowlands - it is, in truth, a noble sheet of water, here and there studded with islands - some large and fertile, others rugged rocks - some embattled with the ruins of an old fortress - some made holy by the crumbling remains of a still older church, where some Culdee made his desert - a disciple of Columba or Fursey, or Fechin his retreat. If such a lake as this were in Scotland, or indeed any where else in Europe, it would be covered with steam boats and yachts; and there would be hotels and accommodation on its shores - and a country as rich, if not richer, than Cumberland would be opened out and planted and built on - but here all is left to nature’s waste, and except a planted island, that we a minute before saw on Lough Mask, (belonging to Lord Leitrim, I believe,) - the whole seems no more improved than if it were Van Dieman’s Land we were travelling through.
 The drive along the northern shore of Lough Corrib is really very fine - for looking across the water, studded as it is with many islands, you have before you the Connemara mountains, in all the variety of their forms - by and by you come to where the lake narrows and assumes the form of a broad inlet, like the estuary of a large river; and just at the entrance is an island covered almost entirely, so small is it, with the ruins of a noble castle, having four round towers as flankers. It put me in mind of Lochleven Castle in Scotland, but it is a much finer ruin. [228]
 It was now getting dusky, and though the lake and the mountains, and the fine island and castle looked grand, perhaps grander in their indistinctness, yet I would have been glad to have seen this scene in a clearer light. I was anxious to inquire about the castle, and therefore stopped at a range of cabins that stood in all their low dirty wretchedness on the road- side, and saluting the inmates, as I always do, with the usual Irish accost - “God save all here,” out came a young woman with a child in her arms, and a better specimen of a fine Irish woman of the lower class I think I have not often seen. There was a freshness in her complexion, and a laughing lustre in her eye, that made her otherwise irregular features very comely; and her figure was so light, her step so elastic and yet firm, that she seemed admirably adapted to be the mother of a fine race of men.
 In answer to many questions, she, with a sort of suppressed smile, said she did not know. The Irish never like to answer questions until they see what is the drift of the interrogator; but when I expressed admiration at the beauty of the country, and the fine position of the old fortress, and how sorry I was that I could not know any thing about it, she then said, “Och for that matter she’d tell me and welcome all she ever heard about it, but how could the likes of her know any thing for sartain? The place was called Castle Hen, and all the neighbours said that it was built by a witch, who came there one night when the Joyces were driving the old residenters, the [229] 0’ Flahertys, out of the country - and she appeared on the little island with a black hen following her, which all allowed must not be nathural; but, at any rate, before morning, up sprung that great building - and then she gave it to king O’Flaherty and the hen along with it; and she told him to take good care of the hen, for that when the Sassenach besieged him, and with their boats would be keeping off all provisions from him, the black hen would lay white eggs enough to keep him from starving; and so it was the Joyces often besieged it, and tried, when they could not take it by force, to starve out the O’Flaherty, but the eggs kept him alive. But sure enough, one Easter Sunday, after a long lent, the master, poor man, was mighty craving for a bit of meat; and indeed, I suppose, the potteen had got into his head; any how, he could’nt be in his right mind, for he takes the hen, do you see, cuts her throat, boils her for his dinner - and a heavy dinner it was for him - for, from that day forth he had neither luck nor grace; the Joyces soon surrounded the place with their boats not a morsel of meal or meat would they let near it; and you see that as the black hen was no more, he could have no eggs, and then he had to give up the last hold of the O’Flahertys in this place he had to quit before the Joyces, and go to the wild country beyond Mamturc, and the twelve pins.”
 “I suppose,” said I, “as you know so much about the O’Flahertys that you are come of that people.”
 “No, in troth, sir, I am more akin to the Joyces - my father and mother were both of that name.” [230]
 “So I thought,” says I. “And what reason has your honour to know any thing about the likes of me?” I did not choose to say that her complexion, her figure, and her light blue eye, bespoke the Saxon cross, that had produced a finer sort of animal.
 [...; the story of Castle Hen is told differently by a subsequent interlocutor, one Barney, as follows:]
 Barney’s narrative being rather disjointed, and occasionally digressive, we shall here render it into plain English for the benefit of those who may not be conversant with the peculiar phraseology of the lower order of Irish:
 Castle Hen, of which the above is a representation, is generally supposed to have been one of the inland castles of Grana Uaile, or Grace O’Maley, in whose time the fortresses around this secluded spot must have been almost unknown, if not inaccessible. Tradition says it was held by one of the O’Flahertys, who owed fealty to this chieftainess, and it is even supposed by some that it was here the heir of Howth was carried when stolen by the O’Maleys as a punishment [244] for the inhospitality of his parents, and only restored upon condition of the gates of Howth castle remaining open during dinner time. Be this as it may, this castle, at the period of our history, was in possession of O’Flaherty but whether the soubriquet of “Na Cullugh,” (the cock,) was applied from his great personal courage, or his quartering a “ Gallus Gallinaceous” upon his escutcheon, history is silent: suffice it to say, that he was known as O’Flaherty na Cullugh, and at constant war with the Joyces, by whom he was surrounded, each party looking upon the other as an intruder.
 As long as they feared the assisting arm of the chieftainess of the west, O’Flaherty remained the victor; but upon the death of that heroine, O’Flaherty being reduced to his own resources, the Joyces began a most fearful retaliation, and much blood was spilt on both sides. At length O’Flaherty and a few of his followers were surprised upon a hunting excursion in the neighbouring mountains, cut off from the castle, and O’Flaherty na Cullugh slain.
 The Joyces now imagined the castle theirs; but though the cock was slain, his wife defended it with the greatest skill and heroism against all their attacks, acquiring for her the title of “The Hen.” Hence the real origin of Krishlane na Kirca.
 History or tradition is silent upon much of the after life of this lady. Some say the Joyces made a road into the castle, and demolished both it and its inmates. There certainly are the remains of a rude [245] causeway leading from the nearest point of land towards ithe island, which can be easily seen on a clear day. We know that Lough Corrib has risen much, owing to the number of dams, &c. that obstruct its fall toward the sea. Besides, it differs from other lakes, in being more a congress of water from a number of rivers running together and subject to increase from obstructions to drainage and other causes; it seems more than probable that this causeway was once above the level of its waters. So far my friend.

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