Category Archives: Weather

Cupid at Athlone

Aquatic Excursion (from a correspondent)

Athlone (2003)

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

Athlone Sentinel 18 September 1846

Shannon water levels

According to the Indo, which may or may not know anything about the matter itself but probably got a press release from someone [to whom the same qualification may apply], farmers along the Shannon Callows are concerned about rising water levels at Clonown, an area on the west bank below Athlone.

The level in that area is held up by the weir at Meelick. But according to Waterways Ireland today,

[…]  low water levels exist on the upstream approaches to Meelick and Victoria Lock. Water levels are currently below Summer levels.

According to the OPW gauges at Athlone, the water level is below the 50th percentile and is falling. The same applies at Banagher, although it did exceed the 50th percentile for some days.

Three lessons suggest themselves:

  • farmers might need to get used to the idea that, when it rains, it gets wet — and that, if they choose to farm on a floodplain, their land might get wet too
  • politicians might refrain from issuing nonsensical panic-laden press releases to gain free publicity [but I suppose that’s too much to ask for]
  • journalists might like to check stuff for themselves instead of reprinting press releases unquestioningly [but that too is probably too much to ask for].

Barges

River problems in the Americas.

Problems on the Rhine

No, not the one in Co Clare.

No German officers

The power of the wind

The fly-boat from Ballinasloe was much retarded in its progress on Monday by the storm. The horses which pulled it were twice driven into the canal by the force of the wind between that town and Shannon Harbour.

Limerick Chronicle 21 November 1840

Races at Castleconnell

There was a considerable multitude of persons at Castle-Connell, yesterday, to enjoy the spectacle of boat-racing. Vehicles of all descriptions were in requisition, and the pedestrians of both sexes were numerous. The weather was delightful, and the enchanting scenery of this far-famed watering place appeared to the very best advantage. The band of the County Limerick Regiment, which attended in full uniform, gave a new zest to the festivities of the occasion.

The contest on the river was between Castleconnell and O’Brien’s-bridge for the premiums advertised last week, and the Castleconnell men were victorious.

We understand the Strand men have challenged Castle-Connell to pull from O’Brien’s-bridge to Castle-Connell for £7, any day next week.

Dublin Observer 8 September 1832

Up the Inny

I have added some photos to my page on the Inny. They were taken in relatively poor light on 17 November 2018 and cover some places between the Red Bridge and Ballinalack. My attempt to find the canal in Baronstown was unsuccessful and I didn’t have time to go as far as Lough Derravaragh, alas.

Pumping the Royal

Waterways Ireland is still pumping water from the River Inny into the Royal Canal at the Whitworth Aqueduct near Abbeyshrule, but the level is still well down. I imagine that that makes it impossible, at least for larger boats, to travel the canal at present.

The location

The inflow from the pump

The level on the aqueduct

Floating remains

The Limerick Advertiser states, that whilst a funeral was lately passing from the shore to a small island [presumably Inis Cealtra, Holy Island] in the great Lough above Killaloe, the friends and relatives of the deceased having thought the ice sufficiently strong to carry the corpse across, it unfortunately broke, and the remains of the deceased were precipitated into the water, and a number of people, who were conveying the corpse, fell in and perished.

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette
3 February 1820

Daniel O’Connell and the Night of the Big Wind

In Liberator: the life and death of Daniel O’Connell 1830–1847 [Gill & Macmillan, Dublin 2010], the second volume of his biography of O’Connell, Patrick M Geoghegan writes

On 5 January 1839 a scandal engulfed the [Precursor] society, and O’Connell suffered one of the greatest betrayals of his life. He had spent the day with [Peter] Purcell [the most important mail-coach operator in Ireland and later founder-chairman of the Great Southern & Western Railway] at the Corn Exchange, attending various committee meetings, and afterwards they walked arm-in-arm in friendly conversation back to O’Connell’s home at Merrion Square.

O’Connell begged Purcell to join him and his family for dinner, but Purcell excused himself and the two men ‘parted at the door as friends part, who expect to meet next day’. There was some time before dinner, so O’Connell entered his study, where he picked up that day’s Freeman’s Journal.  He began reading it and was astonished to find a letter from Purcell exposing financial irregularities in the Precursor Society and threatening to resign unless they were resolved.

Purcell had discovered that the funds of the society had been lodged in O’Connell’s name in the National Bank, and implied that O’Connell had turned a political movement to his own pecuniary advantage and had used ‘the garb of patriotism’ for his own ends. Demanding a full investigation, Purcell called for the money to be placed in the hands of publicly appointed treasurers.

The source cited is John O’Connell Recollections and experiences during a parliamentary career from 1833 to 1848 2 vols London 1849 (although O’Connell did not, as far as I could see, give a date for the incident.

In fact, the date given is wrong. The Freeman’s Journal for 5 January 1839 contains no letter from, or information attributed to, Peter Purcell. His letter was written on 5 January, a Saturday, but was published on the following Monday, 7 January 1839.

O’Connell’s account is seriously misleading. The affecting scene in which the Liberator walks home arm in arm, all unconscious that his companion has just betrayed him, and only discovers the betrayal on chancing to read a newspaper shortly afterwards, is utter nonsense. He might have walked home with Purcell (who lived on the north side of Dublin) on Saturday 5 January, but he could not have read the letter on that day. He could, clearly, have read the letter on 7 January, but I think it utterly impossible either that he and Purcell would have been working all that day at the Corn Exchange or that they would have strolled to Merrion Square afterwards.

That’s because Sunday 6 January 1839 was the Night of the Big Wind. Admittedly, by daylight on Monday, the storm had “sunk back into a steady and heavy gale from the SW” but it “continued throughout the remainder of the day” [Freeman’s Journal 8 January 1839]. The whole city was “a scene of general devastation, houses unroofed, and windows broken in every direction”. Chimneys fell into the street or into the buildings; some houses lost their front walls.

In Stephen’s-green, Merrion-square, and Fitzwilliam-square, there were few houses which escaped the general desolation. Those of the two former localities suffered in particular, stacks of chimnies [sic] being thrown down in every direction, and crushing the roofs beneath them, the streets below being literally covered with slates and brick. But it has as yet been impossible for us to ascertain the remotest approximation to the extent of the damages, or the innumerable injuries which must have been inflicted in the interior. […] The stately trees which ornamented the lawn in front of Leinster-house, in Merrion-square, were almost all torn from their roots, leaving but a few of the smaller ones standing, and that enchanting spot has lost its beauty for ever.

If Daniel O’Connell and Peter Purcell were strolling arm in arm through that lot, they were better men than I am, Gunga Din. In fact, unless O’Connell’s house escaped damage, I doubt if he would have been sitting quietly reading the paper in his study while waiting for dinner: I’m sure he’d have been up on the roof with a tarpaulin, a hammer and a bag of nails from B&Q.

But that is the less important, if more amusing, respect in which John O’Connell’s account is inaccurate. He entirely misrepresents the nature of Purcell’s letter. Purcell said nothing to suggest that he believed O’Connell to be guilty of “peculation under the garb of patriotism”; indeed he explicitly said the opposite:

[…] I consider so sacred a fund as that which has been collected from the hard earnings of a confiding peasantry should not only be secure (which I fully believe it to be in the hands of Mr O’Connell), but that it should be so placed as to be above suspicion, even in the minds of our political enemies.

I have placed here a PDF of the text of Purcell’s letter, transcribed from the Freeman’s Journal of 7 January 1839, with paragraphing and punctuation adjusted to suit my tastes.

It seems clear to me that Purcell did not accuse O’Connell of dishonesty. He was instead objecting to two things:

  • O’Connell’s blurring of the line between the personal and the organisational
  • O’Connell’s refusal to honour his own promises, promises which had led Purcell to mislead others about the future management of the funds.

O’Connellites successfully defended their leader against an accusation that Purcell had not made: they showed that he had not helped himself to the money and pretended that there was therefore nothing to worry about.

Afterwards, O’Connell and his supporters, especially the increasingly insane Thomas Steele, constantly attacked and insulted Purcell. However, Purcell achieved far more in the remaining few years of his life [he died in 1846] than O’Connell did [he died in 1847], and I suggest that the incident of the Freeman’s Journal letter shows why.

O’Connell was a tribal chief, requiring loyalty to himself and seeking to build a dynasty rather than an organisation. In his last years he alienated many who might have made alliances with him, even if they would not have supported him, and when his country’s need was greatest, in the Famine, he had no influence that he could wield to help it.

Purcell, on the other hand, was a modern business man: he had built a huge and successful operation (and ran several ancillary businesses too) and, when he lost his mail-coach business, he built another and even more enduring organisation, the Great Southern and Western Railway. It was the most successful railway in Ireland and its descendant, CIÉ, is still with us. Getting it off the ground (as it were) required cooperation with people of very different backgrounds and views, balancing the advice of a range of technical experts, seeing off competitors and opponents and managing extremely large amounts of money.

O’Connell by 1840 had made himself into a single-issue, single-constituency chief; Purcell was (to echo Brian Farrell’s terminology) a supremely competent chairman. Had O’Connell listened to Purcell in late 1838 and early 1839, they might have built a powerful and lasting organisation that united rather than divided Irish interest groups. But that prospect had blown away before the Night of the Big Wind.