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Autumnal Rambles about New Quay, County Clare

NO. 7 CURRANRUE VILLAGE AND THE TIDE MILLS

“ How calm! how still! how pleasing to behold
The Sea’s broad bosom where no billows roll’d’
The season soft, the firmament serene,
Th’ illumin’d landscape and the wat’ry scene.”
                                              Fawke's Anacreon.

The weather is invitingly bright, and not a breeze ruffles the shining surface of the glassy sea, as it kisses the strand in front of the bathing lodges: let us visit Currranrue. In a few minutes after adopting the resolution for a ramble, St. Patrick’s Well is passed, and the stranger finds himself descending into the neat little village, whose name forms the title to this chapter. Here Mr. Bindon is to be found for a considerable portion of the year, residing in a rural cottage, and hastening by his personal superintendence the improvement of his property. There is nothing to equal the stimulus which a proprietor’s eye gives to the progress of cultivation. Mr. Bindon’s cottage is well worth the inspection of the curious. Here, disposed of in the most compact manner, may be seen hares, rabbits, grouse and pheasants, all perfectly tame and domesticated. It is indeed wonderful to see such naturally wild and timid animals unscared by the presence of sporting dogs, terriers and harriers, of which latter Mr. Bindon keeps an excellent and numerous pack. One of the subjects best calculated to excite the surprise of the initiated in the neighbourhood of New Quay, is to behold this gentleman, mounted on his favourite hunter, with the hounds in full cry, and running at view before him, while he skims, like the light mountain breezes, over crags and down abrupt precipices, seemingly beyond the path of man.

Close by Curranrue, are the extensive Oyster Beds, which supply delicious fish to the tavern in Duke-street, Dublin, celebrated not only for oysters, but for every luxury and comfort to be usually found in such places.--This bed also supplies a great portion of the provinces of Leinster, Munster, and Connaught: it is denominated the Red Bank. Near it stands, on the sea shore, a neat slated cottage, in which oysters, bread, butter, and potatoes are always kept ready, by the direction of the hospitable proprietor, for such strangers or friends as choose to bend their steps thither. It is needless to remark how acceptable such refreshments must be, after a day’s walk to the pedestrian, who, for information or amusement, explores this coast. It is not unusual to see one hundred and fifty girls simultaneously employed on the oyster beds here, either sowing or arranging the shell-fish, or collecting it for the Dublin, or other markets. These young women form a picturesque corps of mermaids, when seen paddling in the shallow water, with red petticoats tucked up as high as their knees, and sometimes even higher. They appear as if each of them had been the model from which Cowley drew the subject of the following lines:--

“The am’rous waves would fain about her stay,
But still new am’rous waves drive them away,
And, with swift current, to those joys they haste,
That do as quickly waste;
I laughed the wanton play to view,
But ‘tis, alas! at land so too,
And still old lovers yield the place to new.”

The red petticoats, the wild mirth, and native frolic, which distinguish these innocent and cheerful lasses, would lead a stranger to suppose them influenced by more levity than falls to the lot of the generality of their country-women: however, a more intimate acquaintance would convince him of his mistake in coming to such a conclusion; he would then find that their airy mirthfulness, and light gayity of heart, were securely fenced around by a most cautious prudence and jealously-watchful discretion.-- These girls are reputed, in their own little rural sphere, to be signally virtuous, amongst the proverbially virtuous women of Ireland. Of their retiring, yet pleasing modesty, it may be said--

“They wound like Parathions while they fly,
And kill with a retreating eye.”

Curranrue Bay, in common with every thing in this neighbourhood, owes much to the enterprising spirit of its owner. He has caused to be set up several sea and land marks, with red flags attached to them, and serving as guides to direct the mariner through the safe and deep channel: he has also constructed at his own expense a quay-wall and harbour at Curranrue. The walls of this quay are built of immense squared blocks of limestone.-- The facing and general execution of the work are so perfect that it would reflect credit on the most experienced government engineer or scientific builder.

About a hundred yards from Curranrue village, and over a trifling inlet of the sea, is the bridge, which separates the county of Clare from that of Galway. Close by this bridge, on the Galway side, some few years ago, was a sandheap in which a human skeleton was discovered: the bones found were those of a man of gigantic stature. Near them was a long and pointed piece of grit stone, somewhat resembling a dagger, but it was more probably a sharpening-stone, for giving an edge to some of the ancient bronze warlike, or other instruments. The pointed top of this stone is to be seen in the collection of Mr. Cooke, of Parsonstown, in the King’s County. Wormius communicates that it was formerly the custom with the Danes to commit spears, arms, &c., to the grave along with the bodies or ashes of the dead.

His words are--”Tumulis suis non solum cadavera, aut cineres, inferebant veteres, sed arma, hastas, equos, aurum, argentum, aliaque defunctis charissima.” ---Vide Olaii Wormii Monument. Danie, lib. I., c. VII.

From Curranrue you may go, to what are popularly called the Frenchman’s Mills, by either land or water, and the trouble of the journey will be amply repaid. The mill is said to have been built by Baron de Bastero, and on an inscription tablet in the wall is B. B., and the date. It is worked by the ebbing tide, and is capable, according to the miller’s account, of grinding for fourteen hours daily. Had the main-shaft been furnished with an additional pit-wheel, and with connecting levers, the mill might be made to go on the flow, as well as on the ebb of the tide; the same water-wheel, with very little modification, would answer both courses of the tide (when Belisarius was besieged at Rome by the Goths in the year 536, fourteen aqueducts were stopped by the enemy, by which the Romans were reduced to great distress, not only for drink but for moving power to turn their cornmills. In this extremity Belsarius devised the following expedient. He fastened two boats side by side (but not quite in contact) in the middle of the Tiber. In each boat he had a cornmill, to which motion was given by a wheel which dipped down into the river between the two boats, the flow of the stream acting as the moving power. The contrivance succeeded, and has frequently been imitated in later ages. Penny Magazine 27th "Oct." 1830 P.414). In some places tide-mills are constructed, so as to be kept at anchor floating, and to work alike at ebb and flood. The good-natured and disinterested hospitality shown here to tourists by the miller and his excellent helpmate, is not amongst the least pleasing inducements to visit the place. When the writer, some years ago, saw the Frenchman’s Mill, this happy couple lived in a temporary, and rather circumscribed cottage; but their hospitality and independence would do honour to a palace. Their fire-side seemed to be the chosen home of contentment, and the happy miller might sing without simulation of felicity--

“ When spring begins its merry career,
Oh, how my heart grows gay!
Let others toil from year to year,
I’ll live from day to day.”

The party, of which I was one, were feasted here with pure wheaten bread, the like of which, for excellence of quality, is scarcely to be met with elsewhere; there was in it no adulteration—no alum—no potatoes, to spoil the flavour, but all was pure flour, and the “Cead Mile Falte,” with which the loaf was given, enhanced the value of it. The words “Cead Mile Falte,” bring to mind an inscription, which appeared over the proscenium of Hawkins’-street Theatre, on its being first opened many years ago. The words “Cead Mile Failte,” bring to mind an inscription, which appeared over the proscenium of Hawkins’-street Theatre, on its being first opened many years ago. The second word was there spelled “Mille” which in Irish signifies a blockhead, instead, of “Mile,” which signifies a thousand! Probably the error arose from the Latin word “Mille,” a thousand. I remarked it the first night I went to then new theatre, and it was corrected soon afterwards.

If the industrious miller of Duras and his wife had the fortune to reside near a populous town, they would quickly realize a competence by the sale of such whole some and palatable food.

The paintings and gardens at the houses of Baron de Bastero, and of Mr. Lynch of Duras, are well worth inspection. There is a small Druidical altar in the lawn of the first mentioned place: it is formed of three large flags standing on an edge, and having a fourth for a covering; it is open on the south-west. As I intend in a future Ramble to enter at large into the subject of these remains of antiquity, I will, I hope, be excused farther observations upon them at present. Mr. Lynch’s house at Duras was unoccupied during the autumn now past, and several ladies and gentlemen had a subscription picnic party there. It was the pleasantest amusement of the kind in the neighbourhood of New Quay during the season of 1842, and was attended by all persons of consequence in the country.

Returning by sea from the Tide Mills to New Quay, the boating party passes over the Red Bank oyster beds. Your boatmen should here rest upon their oars to allow you to view the astonishing multitude of shell-fish, with which the sandy bottom is covered. Perhaps, while you loiter resting on the bosom of the crystal expanse, the sail-boats from Connemara may arrive laden with a fresh supply of oysters to be fattened on these beds. When the tide is out, the strand here is crowded with panniered horses waiting to be laden for the interior.

Flying fish (exoceti) are sometimes seen between this and New Quay. This fish is reckoned exceeding scarce in Galway bay. It is curious to view the little aquatic aeronaut quit its natural element and skim a short way above the surface of the water, like some flitting bird. Its movements on these occasions are, however, far from being the result of gambolling levity; they are caused by the creatures being pursued by some rapacious enemy beneath the surface of the wave. Nor is its aerial voyage less dangerous; the moment the flying-fish appears above water, the sea-gull stoops upon it with almost unerring aim.

The cuttle-fish is also sometimes met with in these bays. A small one, observed here about eight years ago, immediately blackened the little lough in which the tide had deserted it.

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