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DURSEY ISLAND., New Zealand Tablet, Volume IX, Issue 464, 3 March 1882
So much attention ha" centred lately on Dursey Island, in connection with the rescue of the men who belonged to the Calf Rock lighthouse, that the following description of the island and its inhabitants, supplied by the special correspondent of the Standard, will be read •with interest. Writing from Castletown Berehaven, he says :—: — This liny part of her Majesty's dominions, which is off the Western coast of the county Cork, has but rarely been trodden by a stranger's foot, and, owing to the unfortunate relations subsisting of late between the inhabitants and the landlord, Lord Bantry, it has for some time back been maintained in a state of siege. It is impossible even in thi3 town, the nearest to Dursey, to obtain any exact information concerning it, and I have ouly discovered one townsman who ever viuited it. Lord Bantry has never been over the place, and it is twelve j ears tiuce his 3gent was there. That is, perhaps, due to the fact that after taking a short walk on a sheltered plateau in the island, he went home and promptly raised the rents of the inhabitants very considerably all round. For some two years, however, 1 believe, the Duraey people have paid neither rent nor taxes, and without a n ival expedition it id difficult to see how any legal obligation can be enforced against them. The process of the law cannot be personally served there, fur the s'mple reasoa that there are no boats to be bad except those of the island fishermen, who decline to lend them for any uuch purpose. There are, moreover, only two landing-place* on the coa9t of Dursey, both so dangerous that any boat steered by an inexperienced and unskilled hand would inevitably be dashed to pieces against the sharp eilgds of the slate cliff-, and then ail the writs and notices would be whirled away upon the angry waves of the Atlantic. It was in the early morning when I started for Dursey. The weather had been frosty during the earlier ! part of the night, but now the wind was rising from the south-west ; the rain poured down heavily, and we reached Gardish only to find a gale blowing and the waves roaring furiously. The descent to the water is by winding steps cut in the cliff, ending in a small cove into which successive billows rolled with a terrible noise, tossing the great boat, 25 feet in 'ength, high up ii the air, as if they would fling her Against the rocks and cru-.h Ler at any moment. It was, in fact, very difficult to hear the directions shouted to me. The four oarsmen however, pulling hard, kept the boat near the steps, and, seizing the moment when sue rose nearest, I sprang safely in, with no more mishap than a roll over. Puiling wsll together, the men brought me over the Sound, the bow of the boat sometimes rising high in the air, then settling down with horrid persistency in what seemed a rather deep valley of angry sea. The landing place onDursey Island was wor3e than the starting place on share, being merely a shelving bit of cliff. There, however, a number of men caught a rope and ■dragged the boat up, so that wj could safely disembark. The rock was so slippery that I should piobably have shot back into the boiling torrent raging round us if I had not been assisted. A number of the poor people, attracte i by the sight of a stranger, followed me and ray conductors up a roa 1, hewn and blasted out of the rock, to one of the three villages known as Ballynacallagh. The island runs from the north-east to the south-west, and is about foar miles in length, being in the middle nearly a mile across. It is ■imply a long mouutain range, the rock being slate with veins of quartz. At Ballynacallagh I called on Jerry Harrington, one of the three richest men in the island. Hecime out clad in a tattered flannel shirt, an old hat, a pair of frieze trousers, and a pair of boots which an English beggar would not pick up, half of his right foot and half of the toes being exposed as he walked on in the heavy rain. There are eight or ten houses of the poorest Irish type in the village, and the ruins of a little church believed to have been built by the Spaniards centuries ago, but containing no inscriptions. The number of souls on the island is now two hundred and nine, and they have neither priest, doctor, nor schoolmaster among them. There is no magistrate bailiff, or official of any kind. The little community govorns itself and strives, with poor success, to feed itself. No shop is kept, and a wheeled vehicle is unknown. About twice a year the islanders usually contrive to go over the stormy Sound to hear Mass, and mothers calrry across their infants for baptism when they are a month old. If a man is too sick to bear tiansportation he dies, and is laid to rest in % little graveyard looking far out on the expanse it ocean, whose sad ceaseless rhythm is his requiem. There are twenty-three farms on the island, the cultivators ekeiug out their pro luce by fishing, and there are twelve households solely engaged in that occupation, the number of boats being, I think, five. This has been a bad fishing season, and all the boats except one were knocked to pieces by the recent storm. The farms are almost entirely devoted to grazing, a little space in each being reserved for potatoes, or sometimes oats. The potato crop this year is a total failure. ,* Michael Bhea has a large farm, with grass sufficient to support four cows. His old rent was fifteen guineas, but it was raised to seventeen pounds odd after the memorable visit of Mr. Payne, the agent, twelve years ago, on the valuation of a person employed for the purpose of readjusting Lord Bantry's rental. Michael was all the more annoyed at this because he had "built and Blated a good house, And drained and reclaimed his holding — one of the few marshy localv ities. He is also the owner of a fishing boat, and was for many years a "tender man "at the lighthouse which is now destroyed. He has ten children, and he feeds them on Indian meal and fish, a most unsavoury but not absolutely non-nutritious diet, occassionally •upplemented by a little buttermilk. The fish caught is mackerel, ling, and scad. Michael Shea had caught next to nothing this year. He has tent two fhkins of butter to the tradesmen who «ells him Indian meal, sal<-, and other necessaries, but he is still £40 in his debt. 1 heard a great deal from the people of this tradesmen in Castletown, and I paid him a visit. He confirmed AlLthey had said, and showed me his ledger, from which it was clear as he Btated, that if he pressed his claims, not a beast would remain in Dursey for any other creditor. I noticed two thing 3in examining
his books. First, that he had allowed over £3 a firkin, which is a fair price ; secondly, that there were apparently no payments in cash. The correspondent then describes several of the houses on the island, and the circumstances in which he found the owners. Speaking of his experience in one of the houses he visited (Tim Harrington's), he says :—: — One of the few pleasant incidents in my visit occurred here. I was informed that a Miss Matilda Dudley, of Ballynacallagh, taught the island boys and girls to read and write. I had in forthwith Tim's two children — Pat, aged thirteen, and little Mary, eleven. I opened a large old-fashioned reading bock, end gave Mary a passage to read. To my astonishment, she read it readily and correctly, going over such words as " privilege " and "division" without a pause, but of course with a rich brogue, I tried her in another passage, with the same result. Pat. who was terribly frightened, did nearly as well, and could certainly have reid a newspaper aloud without difficulty. I found them, especially Mary, thoroughly well grounded in the multiplication table. On my way hack half the population of the island accompanied me, the rain having ceased, and from one and all I gathered the same story. Nearly every man. owed from two to three years' rent and all were evidently apprehensive of the evictions said to be intended by Mr. Payne. It seems that orders for substitu* ted service of writs have been obtained, and that mumbers of them are now lying at the Allihies post offices, for which reason the people cannot venture there to ask for any letters, Many and anxious were the questions put to me on this and other subjects, and especially as to the probable action of the Land Commission Court. The islanders have all entered that court, and they were much cast down when I told them that the arrears coull not be thus wiped out. " If, " said one, "he wants hi* arrears, he may as well take the turf itself, there is nothing else for him. " I askid whether. If the 1 indlord employed them to make the badly wanted road over the mountain to the ■western village, they would work off the arrears in that way aad the proposition was eagerly embraced. It is my firm conviction that these poor people would be willing to pay the arrears if they had the means ; but it is clear that they cannot pay in money. I saw before me, iv Ballnacallagh, a young woman waiting, rather better dressed than the rest, her hair neatly brushed back and^bound with a riband, but, of course, with barefeet, boots belonging here rather to the class of implements of labour than to dress. This was Miss Dudley, the schoolmistress, who may be said to iepresent civilisatioa in this queer island colony. I had a conversation with her, from which I learned that she taught sixty out of the eighty children on the island, and that they were generally as far advanced as Tim Harrington's son and daughter. She had been four years at a convent school. I was sorry to find that she thought of giving up her office very soon, as " the Board " would not make any addition to her earnings. The ordinary charge is a shilling a year for reading, writing, summing, and geography, but she charges up to half-a-crown a quarter for a few of the finishing studies. Formerly the Board — that is, the Com* missioners of National Education — paid £20 yearly to an old schoolmaster, and allowed him a house ; and it would be a great pity if the services of this excellent instructress should be sacrificed for want of so small a sum. She said that she badly wanted elementary reading and spelling books for her pupils, as well as copybooks for practice.
DURSEY ISLAND., New Zealand Tablet, Volume IX, Issue 464, 3 March 1882
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