Friday, November 1, 2013

A Little Tour Around Ireland . . . in 1859

A Little Tour in Ireland
 A wonderful volume from our Special Collections here at the Hardiman Library, is A Little tour in Ireland by 'An Oxonian'. The author in question was an Oxford student but was later identified as being Samuel Reynolds Hole, Dean Of Rochester. This edition goes some way to removing the mystery of the author as at some point in history, someone added the manuscript name of the author, 'S.R. Hole', as you can see in the title page image. The illustrations which add a hugely visual element to the scenes depicted and the people encountered on the journey are by John Leech, a renowned artist and caricaturist, well known in London society of the early to mid 1800s.

'The Letters of Samuel Reynolds Hole, Dean of Rochester, edited with a memoir' by George A.B. Dewar, published in 1907 in London is a great source for biographical information on Hole and also Leech and provides additional context for the journey in Ireland and the book that was to follow. In a chronology of the life of Samuel Hole, printed in these collected letters, (1907, London) it is noted that his first book was A Little tour in Ireland, published in 1858. This is at odds slightly with this edition at the Hardiman Library (and most other editions) which is dated as being a 1959 first edition. 

The book points out how "Leech and Hole were great friends. At Leech's suggestion they travelled together in Ireland, and the result was "A Little Tour of Ireland", which Hole wrote and which was illustrated by what Ruskin called "the kind and vivid genius of John Leech.".

The travel route was mapped out by John Deane, one of the members of the Royal Commission at the time of the famine and this would include Dublin, Galway, Connemara, the scenary of the Shannon from from Athlone to Limerick, Kilarney, Glengarriff and Cork. Individual legs of the journey which feature the West of Ireland include, 'From Dublin to Galway', 'From Galway to Oughterarde', 'Connemara', Clifden', Leenane', Kylemore' and then further throughout Ireland.
Dean Samuel Hole

The level of detail in description in each stop along the journey is fascinating to read. Describing the Claddagh, Hole writes; "The Englishman who desires a new sensation should pay a visit to the Claddagh. When we arrived, the men were out to sea; but the women, in their bright red petticoats, descending half-way down the uncovered leg, their cloaks worn like the Spanish Mantilla, and of divers colours, their headkerchiefs and hoods, were grouped among the old grey ruins where the fish market is held, and formed a tableau not to be forgotten. though their garments are torn, and patched, and discoloured, there is a graceful dignity about them which might teach a lesson to Parisian milliners; and to my fancy the most becoming dress in all the world is that of a peasant girl of Connamara." (p38-39)

Hole commented on wanting to travel at his leisure on this jaunt around Ireland: "We had ample time thoroughly to enjoy that which we saw, not acting on the principle of that Cockney tourist . . . who boasted that he had 'knocked off thirteen churches that morning', but going leisurely like large butterflies from flower to flower. . . You cannot hurry in Ireland, there is something in the humid atmosphere and in the habits and demeanour of the people which ignores haste." (p11)

Commentary on the Great Famine in the Galway region makes for grim reading. Upon finishing a "Mighty dinner at Galway", accompanied with Drogheda ale, Hole and Leech are Hole are reminded by their witer of the hardship of Famine Ireland. "That's right good gintlemen, niver forget when ye've had yer males, to thank the Lord as sends them.May ye niver know what it is to crave food and may ye niver see what I have seen here in the town o' Galway. . . .I've gone out of a morning gintlemen, (his lip quiverd as he spake) 'and seen them lying dead in the square, with the green grass in their mouths." (p46) 

Of particular interest to readers here in the West will be the fantastic fold-out colour drawing of a crowded scene of the Claddagh here in Galway, by John Leech. It stretches to cover a triple-page entry included adjacent to the title page of the book, both pictured here. It is noteworthy to see the emphasis both Leech and Hole placed on thier time in the West and in the Claddagh of Galway that they would choose to include this image so prominently within the book. 

The Claddagh, Galway (click to enlaerge)

'A Fair at Leenane"

As an early travel guide around Ireland, highlighting places, landmarks, communities, people and the landscape around Ireland, hardly ten years after the Famine, it makes the book all the more incredible a read. To read this book brings to mind a pharse used by Hole to describe his trip through 'Connamara': 

It has been, indeed, a privilege and refreshment to wander amid these glorious scenes."

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