The steamer Cupid

The steamer Cupid is one of those on a list of Steamers plying to the Port [of Limerick] or on the [Shannon] Navigation. The list was compiled by John Long CE, who was employed by the Board of Works to complete the floating dock at Limerick but who also found time to help with the unsuccessful attempt to convince Her Majesty’s Government that the transatlantic mail steamer service should be based in the Shannon estuary. [Mr Cunard, incidentally, whose mother was Margaret Murphy, said he would go along with a move to the Shannon if he had to, but would expect to be paid extra.]

Long merely notes the existence of the steamer, but I take the word “plying” to mean that the Cupid was a working steamer, not a pleasure craft. That said, the only other mention I have so far found of it had it conveying a pic-nic party; I reproduce the account below. Bernard Mullins, the vessel’s owner, was at the time a contractor to the Shannon Commissioners, having taken over the works at Athlone.

Athlone Sentinel 18 September 1846
Aquatic Excursion (from a correspondent)

September 17, 1846 — The Amateur Band of St Peter’s, who deserve so much from the inhabitants of Athlone for the many opportunities they seize upon, to amuse them, having provided — on a large scale — for themselves and guests a sumptuous and plentiful feast, with the necessary teetotal drinks, sailed up the lake on last Sunday in the Cupid Steamer. The day was beautiful and inviting and the placid stream of the noble Shannon — as if in harmony with the circumstance — opening wide its expansive bosom to receive them, displayed in gorgeous grandeur, the verdant beauties of its multitudinous islands and grove-covered promontories of its indented coasts.

I never saw the lake to such advantage as on that occasion. We had about eighty persons on board, amongst whom were the Rev Mr Philips CC and RW, Mr Keating and family, and other pic-nic parties, with viands and refreshments in abundance. As the steamer made the lake and swept through an Archipelago of islands — namely, Carbery, Kid, the Wren, and Crow Islands, &c, having the wood-embosomed Hare Island, the present insulated residence of my Lord Castlemaine, on the right and the grove-crested cape of the Yeu or, as some call it, the Loo Point on the left — then it was that she breasted the serene bosom of this inland ocean not as Byron says, “walking the waters like a thing of life”, but bounding over its mirrored surface like an impetuous courser she seemed to devour the distance, while she tossed a road of foaming surges from her heels. On each side appeared emerging from wood and grove beautiful villas and noble ruins, towers and antiquated telegraphs, with their declivous lawns sweeping to the water’s edge.

As we passed between Inchmore, Innisbofin, the Nun’s Island, the cultivated and rich callows of the Longford coasts, and Warren’s Point, St John’s and Mount Plunket on the Roscommon side, hill and dale land and water reverbrated with the dulcet tones of our excellent band under their inimitable instructor, Mr Keating, while at intervals the gay and cheerful dance on deck, to the music of the violin, enlivened the enjoyment of the exhilirating prospects that accumulated around us.

One or two objects which I observed, struck me very forcibly, and reminded me of the left-handed, nay, monopolising policy of former days, and the state of vassalage under which we yet groan and which “Ireland for the Irish” would never tolerate. In a beautiful valley, and modestly peeping from the clustering foliage of circumnambient trees and in accommodating contiguity to the “big house” stood the snug and aristocratic church of the minority, styled in legal parlance “the Established”, while at a distance on the bleak hill of Newtown, exposed to wind and weather, a chapel dedicated to the worship of the millions, displayed all the frigid isolation of a step-mother’s care.

We now arrived at Quaker’s Island, and having tacked about, we made for Warren’s Point, on our way home, and went on shore at St John’s Castle. With feelings of deep melancholy mingled with admiration, we viewed the venerable ruins of this once majestic pile (huge masses of which lay scattered here and there), its dismantled bastions, deep fosse, and the roofless walls of its antiquated chapel, while on a neighbouring hill stands the shell of its watch-tower to give timely warning of the approach of the feudal rival who would dare contest sovereignity with its lord.

We then warmly and eagerly discussed the viands abundantly spread on the verdant sward at the base of

These ivy crowned turrets, the pride of past ages,
Tho’ mould’ring in ruins still grandeur impart.

After which the merry dance commenced, unconstrained laughter and encouraging shouts accompanying the performers, bringing the memory back to the times of rural felicity; when under the fostering tutelage of a domestic legislature, every family had its own quern to grind its own grain, every peasant could drink his own beer and the daily toil of virtuous industry being over, the children of simplicity, to the sounds of the oaten reed or the violin, or the more national bag-pipes, tripped it gaily on the “light fantastic toe”. And this was the happy and tranquil state of “Old Ireland” before the importation into it of such exotic materials as Sir Walter Raleigh and his rotten potatoes.

To return to the ruins. I wish Lever, Carlton, or some one of those compilers of Irish legendary lore, had visited Lough Ree, he would find there more traditionary facts connected with the pristine magnificence of the different localities, than very many of those which have been already noticed in Magazines.

Having embarked once more we soon arrived home, and thus ended to the satisfaction of all parties, one of the most amusing days I, at least, ever spent in my life. To Bernard Mullins Esq, the young men composing the band return their sincere acknowledgements, for his kindness in accommodating them with the Cupid for this very pleasant excursion.

O’B

Perhaps the teetotal drinks went to O’B’s head: he seems not to have noticed any contradiction between his implicit condemnation of such modern innovations as the mill and the brewery and his enjoyment of an excursion on an even more modern innovation, the steamer.

The Cupid is not mentioned in Ruth Delany’s The Shannon Navigation [Lilliput Press, Dublin 2008] and I have found nothing more about it. I would therefore be grateful to anyone who can provide further information.

[oiwb33]

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