THE HIGHLANDS OF CAVAN - Anglo-Celt 14 Nov. 1850
Transcribed by Kay Stanton
A traveler starting from the county town of Cavan and wishing to get a correct idea of the state of things - physical and social - in the higher and poorer parts of this (once) thickly populated county, could not take a better course than to come up by the Dublin mail to Virginia, and stopping there for the night, he might take a look in the morning at the beautiful scenery around Lough Ramor. At the upper end of the town his eye will be taken by the view of a babbling rivulet tumbling down a ledge of rocks, and soon disappearing under a covert of shrubs and trees as it rolls onward, and soon loses itself in the broad expanse of Virginia's lovely lake.
Lough Ramor is one of the largest and most picturesque of our county Cavan lakes - a county which is noted for the number and variety of loughs - it touches the town of Virginia on the south side, and extends from right to left of the town some three-and-a-half miles, and in several spots it spreads out more than a mile in breadth.
"Numerous islets lie sprinkled upon its bosom, and are, for the most part, tufted with wood; its outlines are, in several places, considerably varied, and its shores are diversified with demesnes, plantations, fine farms, and the town of Virginia. On the western end the shores are beautified by the plantations of Lord Headfort's fine deer-park - which stretches for two miles around them - and connected with the improvements of Fort-George the residence of the rector of the parish, and also with the plantations of Fort-Frederick the beautifully situated demesne of Richards Scott, Esq."
This lake has for the last few years become famous for its Regattas, which come off with great elclat in the month of August, and attract to its shores the rank and fashion of the country with crowds of strangers from various parts of Ireland. But we hasten away to other scenes. The streamlet that crosses the Dublin road at the upper end of the town, may be traced along its winding course for twelve or fourteen miles, till the tourist finds himself standing at its source among the health-clad hills and moors of the Highlands of county Cavan. Crossing over the country, lying to the eastward of Lough Ramor, the traveler meets little to attract his attention until he reaches a summit nearly midway between Virginia and Bailieborough, and there, if the day is fine and the sky clear, his eye will range over a wide and varied outline, stretching from Slieveglagh, in the neighbourhood of Cavan, to the mountains of Moume; and here he can see and feel the point and beauty of the poet's couplet,
"Tis distance lends enchantment to the view,
And robes yon mountain in its azure hue."
After admiring the country around him, the traveller (sic) will soon enter the town of Bailieborough, and as this remote inland town, with its mountain scenery and crowded population is little known, it may be right to take a look at the town itself, and, if time permitted, to make a few excursions in its neighbourhood, and give a description of its physical features, and then to tell something of the past and present condition of the people who dwell there. Bailieborough was, till of late, one of the best market towns in the county. It was, till the famine arrested its progress, a most promising and thriving place. The weekly market is on Monday; it is still pretty well attended by the farmers for miles around, who find in it a ready sale for every kind of farm produce; but it must be no longer concealed, there has been for the last year or two a visible falling off in the numbers who used to attend fairs and markets. The change for the worse is felt in both town and country. The introduction of the free-trade policy has told terribly on the agricultural population of this corn-growing district, and the loss of the potato has entirely changed the appearance of the country.
The cabins where the farm-labourers or cottiers used to dwell have long since been deserted, and nothing remains of most of them now but a solitary gable or ruined side-wall, which may remain for years to come a memento of past neglect and mismanagement somewhere. Not only are the cabins of the labourers abandoned, but many of the cottages of the honest and once thriving small farmers are now standing tenantless, and their quondam occupants are now gone, exiles in a foreign land. .............................................
But to return, Bailieborough, as a town lies in the midst of hills. On the east stand Laughnilea and Tayhart, the highest mountains of Cavan. From a lough-let under Tayhart hill springs one of the head streams of the Annalee or Cootehill river, which flows into Lough Erne, and on the opposite side of the same hill rises a stream that swells into the Louth river, and empties itself into the sea above Dundalk. The descent of these streams proves that Bailieborough stands near the highest land in Cavan. The town lies north and south, and the main-street is lined on both sides with many new and elegant shops, where the merchants transact, or rather used to do a considerable business in the woollen (sic) and grocery, timber, and hardware trades.
In the town there are two inns. Mr. Thomas Argue of the Adelaide Hotel keeps up a posting establishment, and receives, as he well deserves, a large share of public patronage. We have in the town a Courthouse, with a Bridewell attached, and Bailieborough is one of the four towns in the county where the assistant-barrister holds quarter sessions twice in the year. The other three are Cavan, Cootehill, and Ballyconnell. It is also the station of a large police force. The constabulary are under the watchful care of Mr. Bailey, the resident inspector; and we have also stationed here a strong revenue police force whose vigilance and presence here are required to keep in check the old propensity of the natives for distilling among the mountains and bogs around the town.
To the south west of the town, on the road from Bailieborough to Virginia, stands the new Fever Hospital, which is at present under the care of Dr. Moore, and a little above it rises on the side of a bleak hill the newly erected Agricultural Schoolhouse, with suitable offices and farm attached. It is to be a training-school, where some six or eight pupils are to be boarded and educated under the eye of an experienced agriculturist, and taught both the theory and practice of the modern and scientific system of farming.
One is glad to see this new establishment erected in this neglected mountain district. It is much required here, where we are so much addicted to our old habits of thinking and doing that we can hardly bear anything that has the look of novelty. The farmers who lived here some sixty years ago are said to have followed the instincts of nature in everything, and in the ploughing of their field and the threshing of their corn they kept up the old and original plan -
"When they ploughed their fields by horses' tails,
And threshed their corn with fiery flails."
This may appear to the moderns ludicrous, but it was true to the letter, as we hope to show in our next. §