TRUE, Henry was not a very intimate friend. I had only met him briefly twelve years ago. Then he had told me of his house in Ireland and said I must be sure to come and SEE him if I ever got over. It had taken a bit of research to find him after all these years and a war. His cordial invitation came from Rome a few weeks before my take-off for Europe. He would expect me any time in June, he wrote. A postcard was enclosed in the letter. It showed crenelated lowers buried in trees above a lake. Mountains rose in fat rounded folds from the water. The card was labeled “Glenveagh Castle, Lough Veagh, Co. Donegal.”I had boon enchanted.
“ Looks just like Maine to me,”my husband said.
“It wouldn’t if you were going there,” I said. “It would look exactly like Ireland.
Bless that picture poslcard! My memory of it was the only address I had for Henry. I stepped confidently up to the Irish clerk behind the information desk at the Shannon airport. Over his head was a huge map. “Can you show me Lough Veagh, in County Donegal?” I asked him. But Lough Veagh was evidently no Lake Superior. It took some time to locate.
“Would this be il then?' the clerk asked, pointing with a long stick to a spot far off in the northwest corner. “Wail now, till I fetch a ladder and make sure.”
It was Lough Yeagh right enough and it lay in a straight line up the west coast from Shannon. “ I low far is it ? ” I asked.
“Oh, it’s a long way, he said with a solemn shake of the head. “A hundred and forty, or maybe fifty, miles!”
“Gracious!" I exclaimed, feeling he expected me to be impressed. “Can you go by bus?
“You can indeed,’ he said. I here s plenty of buses, and now and again a train runs in the general direction.”
I hastened to get into my raincoat. What fun it was going to be to follow that shoreline, as irregular as the drawing of a man’s hand. Beckoning a porter, I asked the clerk when the next bus left.
“There’ll be one in the morning,” he told me cheerfully, “the day after tomorrow, will get you as far as (fa I way.”
“What!” I said, shocked into dropping a hat box and umbrella. “Nothing on either Saturday or Sunday? The clerk assured me there was not. I could stay in Limerick, he told me, Limerick was a lovely town. It was my first lesson in the leisurely, Puritan habits of Ireland. Cotton Mather himself never spenl more austere week-ends than these devoul folk. The next ihingtodo, I decided, was to telephone I lenry.
The size of the Irish telephone book would not take care of a New York suburb. Nor was the name I was looking for in it, I told the operator plaintively.
“Then you can’t reach him,’ she said heartlessly.
I went back to the map, my restless American pulses already beginning to slow down to the unhurried Irish tempo.
“But I want to go to Donegal today” a voice next me protested. It was a mans voice with the familiar Irish cadence of a New York traffic cop. I turned to see what my nieces would call “a tall, dark, and handsome.
“Can you not hire a car then?’ he asked, the brogue growing richer with his impatience.
“Yes,” I put in my word eagerly, “on Saturday and Sunday ? ” It appeared to be very simple. There was a ear outside would drive us anywhere m Ireland the clerk said; he seemed to take it for granted the stranger and I should travel on together. In only a matter of minutes we were rolling along the road to Limerick.
Our driver was a cheerful pink-cheeked lad named Michael Burke, whose passion for conversation left him little concern for the hazards of motoring. Irishman that he was, he drove a car as if it were a horse with eyes in its head and some judgment.
Through the centuries, Irish roads have dug themselves low into the ground. On the west coast they are recklessly narrow and wind between tall hedges. In June when the hawthorn is in flower, the hedges lace the country under a net of white “So you’d think the snow was on them,”Michael said — while banks of wild fuchsia drip scarlet and purple blossoms the summer through. Farm animals have the right of way. Sheep, geese, cattle roam the roads unfettered. Horses graze loose along main highways, in town and out. All domestic beasts are important. The letters D.Y.M. seem to be on more doctors" shingles than M.D.
I SUPPOSE you’d know I was Irish,”my traveling companion said, turning his dark Celtic head to me. “I guess making me an American citizen didn’t change my accent.”
“Fortunately not,” I answered. He told me he worked on the mail cars between Washington and New York. After four years in our army, chiefly in the Pacific, he had come back to see his old father, a schoolmaster in Donegal. Wait two days in Shannon when he got there in one night from New York! The idea was daft. Michael Burke wanted to knowall about the war in the Pacific. Exhilarated at the prospect, he stepped on the accelerator to take the next blind curve. The postman gripped the door ledge.
“Can you not stay on your own side of the road now, Alike?” he begged. “Sure, you have me scared half silly. Fighting in New Guinea was nothing compared to ihis!”
“What if we met someone coming around a curve?” I said in tones of extreme anguish. Michael loosed the reins, figuratively speaking, screwing his head around to give us a radiant smile.
“Oeh,” he said, “there’s none out on the roads today! Or if there was itself,” he added, “they’d be on the wrong side too, so lei you not worry yourselves.'’
“Let’s stop and have lunch,”I suggested as the only means of prolonging our lives with any certainty for allot her hour.
“ Immedjetly! ” ihe postman ordered. Michael assured us we’d be coming to a place they had grand food in a wee while, a mile it was maybe, down the road. But no one, I found, has any idea of time or distance in Ireland, We drove on for miles, past freshly whitewashed cottages, their thatched roofs tucked neatly inside the eaves at either end. They are like the houses a child draws, front door in the middle, two small shutterless windows on either side, a center chimney so low it barely clears the rooftree. But no child could draw the blue delphiniums, the hollyhocks, the snowy lilies against the whitewashed walls, or the pink roses climbing so exultantly to meet the thatch. To secure it against wild winds on the west coast, the thatch is roped over and tied down to jutting stones just under the caves. Town houses too are built on austerely simple lines without a molding or a shelter to break the fiat surface of a long block. Only from doors have the ornament of fine engaged columns and lovely loaded fanlights. Frequently a town is built around a t hree cornered square Irish anomaly—the somber browns of painted plaster buildings relieved by the bright note of shop signs. Good early lettering is still used in Ireland. The names Mulligan, Cassidy, Grogan. O Flaherty, add luster to a street when painted in black or gold on a wide band of emerald green, scarlet, or dove gray.
It is natural to expect good churches in this ancient and devout Catholic land. Strangely, there are almost none. Splendid ruined abbeys line ihe countryside, destroyed to the last one by that Proteslant fanatic, Oliver Cromwell. Other ruins dot ihe landscape here and there. Buildings burned during “the trouble” they tell you—"it is only as “the trouble" that Eire refers to the grim decade after 1914. Of modern times there is little evidence. Farmers’ wives do without electricity and their men without the gasoline motor. Men si ill swing rhythmic scythes in the fields; walk, while a liny, unhurried donkey draws a little milk cart to the creamery. Great canary-colored mounds of fresh butter, high as a man’s waist, show through the open doors.
Endless miles of stone wall pattern the fields. And because they are laid only one stone thick, a fox hauler looks at them with longing, thinking how easily a horse could knock out a top stone without tripping. “He could also jump his heart out in a few miles,”I said to Michael, whose knowledge of fox hunting was profound.
“Aye,”that youth answered, “ther’re some days you jump until you’re seasick.”
Occasionally’an immense wall blacks out a private estate from the road. Famine walls, the postman explained, built by estate owners to give ihe people work during the famine. “It was the Irish and not Roosevelt first had the idea of WPA.”
But if they lack ot her luxuries, the Irish have one tiling in plenty, fuel. A fifth of the land is peat bog. All anyone need do is step out his front door and cut the peat into bricks with a narrow turf spade. Black, watery ditches crisscross the country where the turf cutters have worked. Mountain bogs are four to five feet deep, while in the lowlands the peat lies fifteen feet thick, centuries of dead heather, gorse, and broom matted into embryo coal.
“Michael,”the postman said at length, “find that inn within the next minute or you’ll live to regret it.”
“It’ll be right around the next corner now,” Mr. Burke assured him with a fresh burst of speed.
Over roast beef and potatoes I asked Michael where it would be best to spend the night. We’d be getting to Sligo in the late afternoon, he said, and the hotel was good. In the meantime I felt I really must get a message to Henry to warn him that I was on my way. From Michael’s road map I chose a town in the middle of County Donegal called Kilmacrenan as a likely spot towards which a wire might be beamed.
“I doubt a telegram will get anywhere now until Monday,” he said. These Irish week-ends!
“No matter,” I replied, “I like sending a wire lo Kilmacrenan. It’s such a lovely name.
Miraculously, when we reached the hotel in Sligo, the manager ran out to say there was a message come for me but a minute since. Kilmacrenan was not his address, yet Henry had got my wire and divined where his wandering guest would spend that night, I was to take the first church bus to Ballybofcy in the morning, he directed, where a car would meet me and bring me on the last lap.
The postman showed professional relief to have me linked up finally to orthodox geography. We said good-bye there in Sligo. He had to push on that night and reach his own home. With deep regret I waved farewell to him and to Michael Burke after supper.
There was no hot water in the inn, no coat hangers in the cupboard, the window blinds were broken; but the bed was soft, the blankets warm against the damp because of a porcelain hoi-water bottle. In any case, I was in a frame of mind to find nothing but good in Ireland. No blinds meant I could see the wild swans stand on their heads in the river under my window, the lilies and rushes which grew on the banks. What bliss it was to stretch out after that long sleepless night in the plane, a whole day sitting behind Michael Burke watching for blind curves in the rain and mist. Ireland, the air, was a soothing drug. My nerves turned limp as kelp.
CENTURIES later a gentle knock woke me and a boy’s soft brogue whispered “Just in ease you might want to get up.”
Want to get up! What if I had missed ihe church bus? The day seemed far along. But I forgot, ihe sun rises at three in this latitude in June. It was only eight o’clock. I should be in time.
The bus was so crowded there was no room inside for my luggage. My things would be ruined out in the rain, I lamented.
“Them bags will be as dry on the roof as inside a stove when I have them covered up,’ the driver assured me. He never hail any intention of covering them, bul an Irishman is impelled by nature to give you the answer he ihinks will make you happy.
The sea against the west coast was wild with storm. Hedges had the look of putting their hacks to the wind; their foliage streamed forward like a woman’s hair. Every soul in ihe county was on the way to Mass. Clothes were shabby and illfitting. Few wore the lovely durable hand-woven tweeds of the country, or the warm fringed shawls; these were old-fashioned, discarded for shoddy “store” clothes. A child skipped rope over a rosary where she waited for the bus. Everyone was friendly. Did I know Mary McClafferty? Living oul on Long Island she was. I was to tell her. should I see her, her aunt from Sligo was asking after her.
At the inn where we stopped for lunch everything was scrubbed and polished to shining brightness. The host placed me at the one table in his dining room with three men and a priest. Because they were Irish their talk was naturally of politics, their target — as always — England. Although T dearly love an argument myself, this time I sat silent until the priest turned to me.
“And is it English ye are,” he asked, “that ye don’t join the conversation?”
“American,” I said, “and I have no objection to the English King at all, nor their form of government, and I’m sorry you didn’t come into the war!” If I was going to join the party I might as well go in head first.
“Will ye listen to lhat now!” the priest gasped. “And why should we ask for Dublin to be destroyed over our heads in one night ?”
“Belfast took the chance,” I said.
The priest’s eyes flashed. “The English King has I he power of a tyrant, ‘ he cried, and that s a terrible danger in any land! Do ye not know the King can dissolve Parliament at will and leave the country with no government at all?”
“But he doesn’t!” I said heatedly. “That’s the whole point.” The priest turned to the others.
“It’s only a woman,” he said in disgust, “would give you an argument like that. And to think, he addressed me again, “that of all the women in Ireland, it h;is to be you I invite to join the conversation! Here,” he added with utmost cordiality, “will ye not have a drink with us?
But Irish beer is warm, there being no iceboxes, and whiskey not to my liking, so I said no, thank you.
“Is it salmon fishing you’re going? another of the men asked. I said I was a very poor fisherman.
“They do say there’s an American millionaire up near Dunlewy has the whole county bought and fenced in.”
“Aye,” another said shaking his head sadly, “that he has.” Time was, the men all lamented in chorus, when a man could kill a couple of fine stags in Glenveagh Forest any time he liked, or fish in Lough Neagh, hut this American, now, had the most fee-rocions gillies in all Ireland and you couldn’t get so much as a chance at any kind of’ game that was his.
“He’ll be glad to hear the poaching has been reduced.” I said. “I’m going to stay with him.”
“There’s another time she has the last word!” the priest announced without rancor. “Well, God bless you anyhow.”We shook hands all around as I go1 up to leave them.
On the final leg of my journey I was driven by the proprietor of the hardware store at Ballybofey. He might have been seventy, strangely silent and unsmiling for an Irishman. He spoke only when spoken to, then he answered wilh the per feel courtesy of his countrymen. “My lady,”he called me. Did he mistake me for someone else, or was this the custom in County Donegal?
We reached country that was grim, fiercely barren, without human habitation. No wonder, I thought, the Irish see leprechauns and hear banshoes. Peat bogs stretched as far as the eye could see: acres of ground w ere spread w ith small clumps of cut turf. If it ever stopped raining, men would stand five or six pieces up tent-shaped to dry. Later they would pile the bricks in great oblong mounds, as symmetrical as a drawing in Undid, to wait a farmer’s need. Showing white in the black ditches, the bones of ancient forests lay uncovered. I knew it was in these mountain bogs men found today the pure gold ornaments of dead Irish kings, wide, crescent-shaped pieces and pieces like a curved dumbbell, heavy as the head of a hammer. My eye searched for a twenty-four carat gleam.
There was not a fence to restrict the black-faced sheep, nor the few cattle that sought thin grass on the treeless waste, until we came to a white lodge and a high gate. “Glenvcagh Castle Demesne, Private,” a sign read. The smiling caretaker r:m out in the rain and opened the way to a road that was hardly more than a rough mountain path.
“How far to the castle?" I asked the driver in mounting excitement.
“A mile may be, my lady, he said. He was wrong by three miles but he knew I hoped it was near. NNc reached a second high fence; “Poison Laid Down Inside Wire,”a warning read.
Goodness! I thoughl, the ferocious gillies “ere going a bit far. But it seems the poison was for vermin, not poachers. This was the beginning of the deer forest, the driver explained; 22,000 acres inside the fence. My eyes ranged over miles of naked mountains crowned with gray rock.
“A queer sort of forest,” I said, “without a single tree.”
“There’s never any trees in a deer forest, my lady.”
“Sure, the animals have every leaf eaten before it ‘s out of the ground.”
One leaf alone defeats a deer, the rhododendron. As we came down the mountain the bushes grew closer and closer, solid as huge pincushions, brilliant with blossoms, clipped into wall-like hedges along the drive.
And here at List were Lough Veagh and the gray towers of the postcard! Henry had told me not to expect anything old and romantic; 1870, he said. NVe drove into the courtyard, I heard a gay “Hello!" and Henry ran out of the walled garden to meet me.
“Oh, just suppose,”I cried, “that I had missed the rhododendrons in flower!”
I hose pests!" he said. “ They grow here like ragweed. Are you frozen? come in and get warm.
How was your trip ?”
He led me to my room, high in a lower, where the wind tore at the windows. “Hurry into country clothes, he said, “so I can show you about before tea. I’ll be waiting in the big drawing room.”
I stood looking far down the lake, saw the mountains pile up round and smooth as raised dough from the water. I watched the rain. It didn’t fall drably, drearily, as at home. It waved in diaphanous curtains down the lake. Jt was gay. fanciful, and intermittent, not always gentle. A gust of wind came through the pass with a roar, black on the water.
It lifted the top of the lake to three feel of white wave before it, lore the wave to shreds, and ended docile as a sheep.
“ Haiti is beautiful in Donegal.”I said to the liltlc maid who came to help unpack.
“N cs, ma am, she answered unconv inced.
“It looks as if the sun might come out later.”
“’That will bring rain, surely,”she told me with the voice of experience.
“Non haven’t come across my lipstick, have you, Annie?" I asked her.
“And what would it look like, ma’am?" Was this Ireland or Mars, I thought, where the girls didn’t know what a lipstick was!
My back to the turf lire, I put on a warm woolen suit, thanked Annie, turned and tried to find my way hack as I came. The big drawing room, Henry had said. That meant there were others. It all sounded so nice and feudal, far from our American ideal of a cozy little place you can manage alone.
I did not care whether the house was beautiful or not. It was a castle in Ireland. My feet were noiseless on The scarlet carpel as I went dow n the lower stairs. There seemed to he a great v ariety of staircases, corridors, different levels. Hows of closed doors bore liltle empty slois for guests’ names. Bedrooms these, of course. I was curious as Bluebeards wile. I wanted to follow every corridor, peep into every chamber. Where on earth was the big drawing room ?
Ah, here it was! Yellow damask, gray velvet, mahogany what magic did housemaids in this country use to achieve that lacquer polish on the furniture? Henry stood by the turf fire caressing his big, kind, woolly dog who shook the wet from his coat at my approach. Irish dogs are born with an affinity for water. The rest of us at the castle soon acquired it.
WE THREE went out into the fine rain; it was sweet m the mouth, soft as the Irish voices. We walked the dripping paths of the walled garden, lush with spring flowers. Everything had gone to bits, Henry explained, in the years he was a was at the war; it was just beginning to come back. Over the garden wall the Pleasure Ground stretched, a long, smooth table of lawn between rare Tibetan rhododendrons. Some were sweet-smelling, with heads the size of a basketball, and immense leaves. There were bamboo, palm trees. . . . Palm trees! Here we were opposite Labrador - almost at the North Pole! How on earth?
“Gulf Stream,” Henry reminded me.
“Is it true you have no telephone?' I asked him.
“What good would it do, he answered with irrelutable logic, “when no one else has one up here tor me to talk to?”
We came in ravenous for tea. It is a meal to he reckoned with in Ireland, served in the dining room, about a generous round table covered with cakes and scones, jams, jellies, and honey, bread and sweet butler. No need to eat sparingly, dinner wouldn’t be until eight-thirty.
“Can I see some deer?” I asked Henry. I said I did not crave to kill any; that could be left to more rugged sportsmen, but since Glenveagh was the largest deer forest in Ireland, I hoped very much to catch sight of a stag before leaving.
“Well drive down to the glen about sundown, Henry said, “and see lots of them. They come from high ground to feed in the evening by the lake.
“Oh,” 1 said, remembering the Leech drawings in my father’s early volumes of Punch -drawings clearly showing hazardous climbs, the physical exhaustion of deerstalkers at the triumphant, tragic moment of the kill.
About nine-thirty that evening, it cleared. Henry and I set out in the pony cart, he in his dinner jacket, I in my best evening frock and French slippers. We had plenty of time, he said; it wouldn t be dark until after eleven. The road ran close lo the lake, heavy moss threw’ bedquilts of green over every rock, ferns traced exquisite patterns on the dark loam of the forest floor, wild foxglove bloomed tall, and the rhododendrons were iced with pink like huge cakes.
“It’s one long fight to keep from being smothered by the rhododendrons,” sighed Henry.
The mountains emptied their heavy load of water over the cliffs, threw it hundreds ot feel; the fat cascades took jump after jump. Springs pushed through the moss, their water crystal-clear, topaztinted from the peat; the lake was a black mirror.
“I was told no one had ever found the bottom of 1 lie lake,” I said, and flicked the lazy pony with my w hip.
“I don’t think anyone has ever looked for it,” Henry replied in his practical way. “There’s a stag!” he cried, pointing. The deer showed red against the mountain. Nearby was a hind with twin fawns. They stepper! daintily forward, turned unhurried to look at us. Ilenry didn i like to shoot, he said; his first experience had cured him. He had wounded the stag and had to look lor hours to find and finally kill him.
“It was terrible,” he said. “But the herds have to be kept down, so I’m always searching for good shots to come during the hunting season. And you know something funny?” he went on. “You never find a pair of shed antlers in the forest. Calcium is so scarce up here that every antler is eaten up before it’s hardly off a stag’s head.
We reached the glen at the far end of the lake. Here where the grass grew lush and green the cleer were thick as cattle at a roundup, tame as sheep.
“Now really!” I exclaimed. “What’s all tins nonsense about how hard it is to get close to a stag?”
“You come back here in September and you’ll see it’s no nonsense,” Ilenry s;iid. “Everyone goes on like crazy!” The whole of Glenveagh, he assured me, looked like a painting by Landseer from the moment the season opened. “And you can’t get near a deer after the first gun goes off . . . you d swear they knew.”
A big fellow stepped into the clear. “See him? Henry’s voice was sharp with excitement. An 1 mperial, probably! ”
“What do you mean, ‘Imperial’?”
“Fourteen points—you can t tell while he s still in the velvet — he’s what you’d die to get if you were stalking, about as big as they come. Stalking is murder, I tell you,’ Henry went on. “ You nearly kill yourself. I he stag is always over the other side of the next mountain.”
The Imperial stared at us in gentle curiosity. I clapped my hands sharply to make the nearest animals jump. “Whoo-oo!” I called. Obligingly, two hinds sailed a big bush, took it as though it were twice the height, landed feather light, bounded on a few yards just for fun, and calmly dropped their heads again to graze.
“Nice going, my pretties, I said. Why, oh why, can’t a horse jump like that? I turned to Henry. “Just imagine shooting them! I cried indignantly.
“The venison’s good,” he said mildly. It was unanswerable. Henry chirruped to the pony, Get a long, Smilax! It’ll be raining again before we’re home.”