An earlier “Tour round Ireland” with images (part 1)

In 1961, Lily Parker toured Ireland with her family and camera, capturing 61 images of Irish coastal sites in colour. A similar tour was carried out much earlier by John Barrow, a draughtsman, in 1835. This bewildered tourist was able to create sketches of some of the strange sights he saw, to accompany his comments in text. On returning to England, Barrow employed James Lee, a renowned wood engraver, to prepare his sketches for publication in a travel journal as engravings. The resulting book, published in 1836, was titled “A Tour Round Ireland.”

Here are some images and observations from when Barrow passed through north County Mayo.

hovel near the foot of the Reek

Hovel near the foot of the Reek

I had here [the quay near Westport] the pleasure of making an acquaintance with Captain Shallard, chief officer of the Coast-guard Service. In taking a drive in his car to the foot of the Reek (as Croagh Patrick is familiarly called), we passed some of the most miserable hovels that I have yet seen, even in the flats of Mayo,—so bad that, without having convinced myself of the fact, I should scarcely have supposed them to be the habitations of human beings, but rather as sheds for the cattle, the more certainly so, had I seen the head of a cow, or some other four-footed beast, peeping out of the doorway, which I understand is no uncommon occurrence. Many of these cabins are built of stones, loosely heaped together, with no window; and the only place for the light to come in at, and the smoke to go out, is through a small hole in the miserably-thatched and sometimes sodded roof, at all times pervious to the rain, and through the doorway. No picture drawn by the pencil—none by the pen—can possibly convey an idea of the sad reality. The inmates, as may be supposed, are wretchedly clad in rags and tatters, and the children almost in a state of nudity.

Barrow had an interest in architecture and he referred to the cottages he saw in Mayo as “stone cabins” and put them into three categories: better, common and worst. The “hovel” shown above was obviously considered to be in the worst category primarily because it had no windows. Note how the thatch on the roof was kept in place by a series of basic anchors, namely lengths of rope with heavy rocks attached to each end. I witnessed this ingenious way of keeping a thatched roof attached to a house as recently as the year 2000 when I first saw the ancestral Neary homestead in Tullinaglug, County Sligo. Dear old John Neary used modern breeze blocks for his roof anchors … but he only slung them over the roof when a storm was forecast. This meant that the blocks were in place for the majority of the year in the west of Ireland, and only removed for the short Irish summer!

worst cabin

The worst class of Mayo stone cabin

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