Carlyle at His Zenith (1848-53)

By David Alec Wilson | Go to book overview

XXIV
THE MOST WRETCHED PEOPLE IN IRELAND (1849)

FOR a week after they met in Cork, on 16.7.49, Duffy could not get Carlyle to say a word about literature, and tens us,-- "The land question was a constant topic."1 Carlyle's contempt for "repale" and concern about the land and economic questions began to be found contagious. Even in beautiful Killarney, Shine Lalor was delighted to talk of nothing else. When they left for Limerick on Friday, 20.7.49, driving north-east towards King William's Town as their first stage, they had to go for 'some fifteen dreary miles, over 'a scandalous wide moor' with no productive industry to be seen but a single limework and a little cutting of peat. Carlyle had seemed to Duffy too 'disposed to insist that difference of religion made the people unduly suspicious of Irish landlords.' So Duffy now told him that Lord Kenmare who owned this land was a Roman Catholic like his tenants, and suggested a look into the houses his Lordship provided for his fellow-Catholics.

Observing how the people working 'looked hungry in their rags, and hopeless, (with an) air as of creatures sunk beyond hope,' Carlyle complied, and has noted:--'Look into one of their huts under pretence of asking for water; dark, narrow, two women nursing, other young woman on foot as if for work; but it is narrow, dark, as if the people and their life were covered under a tub, or "tied in a sack"; all things smeared over too with a liquid green; the cow has her habitation here withal. No water; the poor young woman produces butter-milk; in real pity I give her a shilling. Duffy had done the like in the adjoining cottage. Ditto, ditto,' elsewhere, 'with the addition that a man lay in fever. These were the wretchedest population I saw in Ireland. "Live, sir? The Lord knows; (on) what we can beg and rob,"' (meaning scrape up). ' Lord Kenmare's

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1
Conversations with Carlyle, by Sir C. Gavan Duffy, pp. 96-8.

-150-

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