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Autumnal Rambles about New Quay, County Clare

“In Stygian cave forlorn,
Find out some uncouth cell,
Where brooding Darkness spreads
his jealous wings.”

After a silence of some months, the genial month of August, and near approach of Autumn, tempt to a renewal of those Rambles which the reader was invited to join in last year. The curiosities which on every side surround New Quay, are still unexhausted; let us then submit to the temptation, and recommence excursions equally pleasing and instructive.

In this sultry weather the wearied tourist can enjoy a grateful cool beneath the cimmerian recesses of the cavern known by the name of Pouloushe, an appellation taken from the Irish word Pollach, which signifies “hollowed" and the Irish word uisce, which signifies "water". This truly remarkable cavern is a short distance from the road leading to Kilmacduach church, and about two miles from the town of Kinvarra, to which the reader has been led in one of our former rambles. The entrance to it bears due south-west of Northampton, the neat residence of Mr. Mahon, and east of the cottage of a farmer named Killikelly, on the way leading from Kinvarra to Kilmacduach.

The entire of the district surrounding Pouloushe is a lime-stone one, and it consequently abounds in those underground recesses and caves common to such description of country. The river, which flows through the demesne of Lord Gort at Loughcouter, runs there against a very high and nearly perpendicular rock, beneath which it sinks so instantaneously and completely as seemingly to elude all further observation, and baffle geologists in discovering the course it subsequently takes. It is remarkable to find a large river thus suddenly swallowed up, and, therefore Loughcouter demesne demands a visit from the curious, even though it had not presented any other subject to compensate for the journey from New Quay to Gort. The river subsequently shows itself at some distance, at what are denominated the “Punch-Bowl” and the “Churn,” both of which are well deserving of attention. They are situate about half-a-mile beyond Gort. It afterwards breaks forth again into a full river, from beneath a fine natural arch at a considerable distance, from the Churn and Punch-Bowl. Another river (the name of which I do not remember), flows near to Isert-Kelly, from the direction of Loughrea, and also occasionally hides itself from the light of day in dark underground passages. In all probability, the waters of both rivers unite, and pursue jointly their subterranean meandering until they reach Kinvarra, at which place the reader has been already informed that a flood of fresh water shews itself bursting forth when the tide is out.

The observant eye, although it cannot see the water, can distinctly trace the direction of the Gort river from the last-named place towards Kinvarra, by means of the concave and sunken face the limestone country presents along the line of its course. This sunken and collapsed appearance extends to the breath of about two hundreds yards, and is particularly observable in the neighbourhood of Pouloushe cavern. After passing Killikelly’s farm-house, the tourist proceeds about a quarter-of-a-mile over a bed of limestone, scantily clothed here and there with a mixture of grass, and those small herbs and wild flowers, which delight in attaching themselves to limestone. In traversing this locality you must, however, be cautious where you place your foot, for many and deep narrow fissures open, concealed amongst the rocks and tangled herbage.

The mouth of Pouloushe Cavern is a hole nearly perpendicular, and in the centre of a large and level field of limestone. You descend about thirty feet by this yawning entrance, formed apparently by the accidental falling in of part of the roof of the cavern. Having descended thus far, the traveller enters the mouth of the cave beneath a large, flat, and natural arch of limestone rock. This cavern, which runs from south-east towards north-west, differs, as far as my observation goes, from any yet described in print. As far as the eye can penetrate through the surrounding gloom, nothing presents itself to view save scattered rocks, and an inclined rugged surface of slippery clay beneath the feet. Overhead hangs a stupendous flat ceiling of rock, not resting on pillars or any other visible means of support capable of sustaining the weight of such an expanse of massive stone. The ceiling being flat, low, and smooth, appears almost as if it were the work of art. I have not remarked much stalactite or stalagmite matter here. This, probably, is owing to the river washing it away in winter; but, at all events, as I was not prepared with torches for an underground excursion when I visited it, I felt no disposition to pursue too far an unknown journey amidst darkness, rocks and precipices. The danger too was, perhaps, magnified by the awful view of an impending sheet of rock close overhead apparently unsupported, and ready every moment to fall from above, and bury for ever the too daring foot which had imprudently ventured beneath it. Added to this was the noise of waters wending their way in darkness amongst the rocks, and threatening to bear off in their unknown and gloomy course him who should make a single false step. I could dimly see the river, deep and dark, by the fitful glare thrown from burning straw, which served the place of torches. It seemed to be a considerable stream of water, very deep in some places, and revolving round in many eddies. From some such lurid sepulchral vault as this the poet caught the model for his lines -

“Ibant obscuri sola sub nocte per umbras,
Perque domos Ditis vacuas et inania regna.”

It is now near thirty-four years since I visited the celebrated Cave of Dunmore, near Kilkenny. That cave, as well as the impression remaining on my memory now serves, is far inferior to the Pouloushe Cavern, in extent as well as in dismal and awful sublimity; but still Pouloushe yields to Dunmore in the grandeur occasioned by numerous and fanciful forms of glistening and rich stalactites. —When I was at Dunmore, its cave was the habitation of a multitude of wild pigeons, and it seemed to my then school-boy imagination to be the very spot immortalized by Virgil’s beautiful simile in the fifth Æneid.

(Lualis speluncâ subitò commoto columba.
Cui domus et dulces latebroso in pumice nidi,
Fertur inarua volans, plausum exterita penis,
Dat tecto ingentum: mor äëre lapsa quiteo,
Radit iterliquidum, celeres meque commovet alas:
V. Æneid: line 213.

As when the dove her rocky hold forsakes,
Roused in a fright, her sounding wings she shakes;
The cavern rings with clattering: out she flies,
And leaves her callow care, and cleaves the skies;
At first she flutters; but at length she springs
To smoother flight, and shoots upon her wings:

There was the nest in the recesses of the beetling rock and the noise of many wings echoed as pigeons innumerable issued from the cave, when a stone was thrown against its vaulted entrance.

The sojourner at New Quay may, on his return from Pouloushe, pay a visit to one of the wells dedicated to St. Colman, which is situated in the county Galway, a few hundred yards from the Castle of Kinvarra, on the road leading to Ardrahan. This fountain is called “Tubbermacduach”-the well of Duachs's son or descendant. Here is a small spring of water. Some years ago, when I furnished an account of this fountain, which was published in the first volume of the Dublin Penny Journal, it was neatly walled in, and shaded by a few hawthorns. In the background stood a blasted and withered ash. It seemed to have long been a companion to the reputed holy fountain, and its blighted aspect formed as sad contrast to the verdure of the glebe and shrubs about it. The upper wall enclosing the well was at that time, apparently, of recent erection, and formed a square of about seven feet to the side, having a stile for the admission of devotees and pilgrims. Beneath the square wall just mentioned, and around it there also stood then (1832) another stone fence of a circular form. This last fence had gone considerably to ruin when I last saw Tubbermacduach. There is a small nitche in the interior of the upper wall, on the left-hand side as you enter by the stile. This serves as a receptacle for a cup, as also for the worthless offerings of those whose over-ardent devotion brings them to pray here. A neat cross of stone was erected in front of the well opposite the high road, and still remains there.

The reader will be presented in a future number with some account of St. Colman when we come to visit the cathedral, founded by him at Kilmacduach. Most probably Tubbermacduach (like many other spring wells in Ireland) was used by the saint, whose name it bears, for the purpose of baptizing converts to Christianity. The primitive missionaries frequently hallowed those fountains near which they happened to be staying, by washing away original sin at their waters. Thus, Archbishop Ussher (Primord, pp.862, 3) writes that St. Patrick baptised those whom he converted near Dublin, amongst whom was Alphin, the king’s son, in a well near St. Patrick’s Church which, in after ages, became a place of devotion for the faithful, and so continued until it was enclosed within the foundations of a house in the seventeenth century. The Abbe MacGeoghegan (Hist.d’Irl., Vol.7. 258) relates the same. It was no way extraordinary that after baptism ceased to be conferred by actual immersion in wells, the faithful continued to resort to and offer up their homage to the Divine Author of all on the spot where they, or their forefathers, had been edified by the exemplary piety of such saintly men as Saints Patrick or Colman. What wonder that people should regard with veneration a locality where the stain of original impurity had been often washed away in the regenerating waters of the Holy Ghost? I am not an advocate for well-worship, if any such exists; but I cannot help thinking that the circumstance of place serves much to give an earnestness and fervour to prayer.It cannot be denied that one feels within the walls of a solemn Gothic cathedral an impulse to invoke the Supreme Being, which he cannot account for. The transition is easy, in weak and ignorant minds, from pure devotion to fanaticism, and from the veneration of true religion to a degrading and base superstition; - there may, therefore, be some who desecrate our wells in Ireland through misguided zeal, as there certainly are persons who resort to Patrons for more vile and abominable purpose. The misconduct of the few cannot, however, be justly visited upon the many. These observations are reluctantly forced upon me by the perusal of a pamphlet entitled “The Holy Wells of Ireland,” in which, amongst other descriptions of such places, I find inserted that sent by me of Tubbermacduach to the Dublin Penny Journal. The author of that pamphlet is a gentleman for whom I entertain the highest respect, and to whom this country is deeply indebted for the spirited manner in which he long conducted, free from religious bigotry and party rancour, a cheap national periodical, replete with the history of Ireland, its beauties and antiquities. I deeply regret that such a man should have descended to propagate an unmerited imputation of idolatry and well-worship against the majority of the people of a country, to which he had previously rendered such a signal service.

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