Irving, John to Catherine Irving (née Caddell) (1843/12/08)

H.M.S. “Volage,” Berehaven,
8th December 1843.

My dear Kate,—I am quite charmed with your description of your old-fashioned house. I do detest a new country house. Notwithstanding all the trouble you have had, I see by the tone of your letter that you are in better spirits than your wont. You see there is nothing so good for people as the excitement of a movement after all. Your letter gave me the first news of the departure of Alick’s Mary. I hope Lewie is pleased with your new place and its neighbourhood. As soon as you are turned a little, you must write me again. Do not think I look for a whole sheet of paper written full. If Lewie or you would write even just a little note I would be very glad, only to hear how you are, how sister Mary and my father are, and if anything is stirring at all. I hear from no one else, and when one is among people you don’t care a straw about, one takes more interest in hearing about their friends. I am now getting on for four months in this ship, and I am happy to say it is almost certain she will not be above six months more in commission. Last week the “Caledonia,” a 120-gun ship, came from England to take our place at Cork, and we were ordered round to this place. We had rather stormy weather, and were five days coming. This place is a town of about five thousand people, on the north side of Bantry Bay. An island, six miles long, lies off the town, and the harbour is the passage between the island and the main. This island is the property of Lord Bantry. He has given the officers leave to shoot over his estates, and the game is most abundant—hares, woodcocks, and snipes.

The people are, almost without exception, Roman Catholics. There is a Protestant curate, but he was nearly killed the other day, and I daresay he, and whatever Protestants there are in this neighbourhood, are very glad to have the “Volage” lying at their doors. We have also a man-of-war steamer with us. There are now, on this Irish coast, 1 line-of-battle ship, 3 frigates, 11 steamers, a brigantine, and a cutter, all dispersed on this south-west coast. Several are in the river Shannon. We are only about ten miles from Derrynane, Dan O’Connell’s property and country house. It is a very fine place, quite like a nobleman’s; but it looks like catching him, putting down a man-of-war just at his door. The people, even Dan’s own tenantry, are very civil to us, and all the gentlemen, of all creeds, have invited us to their houses, and given us the use of their horses; indeed, the rough, hearty hospitality of the gentry of the far west is quite Highland, and the half-warlike state of their households is quite picturesque. It is shocking to hear the cool indifference with which even the ladies mention a man being waylaid and murdered, a house burned, or a notice to prepare a coffin written in blood; they are quite used to these. Lord Bantry had one sent to him the other day. I am told that he and some others in this district applied to Government to protect them. We could land, if wanted, nearly 200 men from this ship; but they say that even the name of our being here has given the greatest confidence, as they had begun to fancy they were neglected by our Government. Since I wrote this, another man-of-war steamer and the cutter have arrived with thirty additional marines on board. These vessels will be stationed here along with us. We could amongst us turn out 300 men. There are some copper mines not far from here, at which there are upwards of 1000 people employed. I am going to them. The country really swarms with people. Even on the high rocky hills, it is all little square fields of one or two acres, like a chess-board, and dotted with cottages, or rather huts, every one of which is full of children. Wherever a potato will grow it is planted. Boats full of people of both sexes and all sizes are hovering round the ships all day, staring their eyes out. As they are by no means well off for clothing, and mostly bareheaded, and talk in a language of their own, it reminds me much of being surrounded with canoes full of staring and jabbering natives in the south seas. Write me soon, my dear Kate. I don’t care about its being a long letter. Just let me know in your own way how you are all getting on. Love to Lewie and Mag.—Your affectionate brother,

John Irving.

H.M.S. “Volage,”
Plymouth, 14th January 1844. 

… Our ship was taken into dock on New Year’s Day, when it was found that she had knocked off 32 feet of her keel, besides scraping off a good deal of the copper sheathing. A man-of-war is built double, so as long as only the outside case is injured she cannot leak. She was taken out of dock yesterday, and will be ready for sea on the 20th instant, when she will, we expect, return to Ireland. Government keep adding to the force in Ireland. We are curious to see what may be the effect of the pending trials. I dined the other day with the Captain’s mother, Lady Dickson, and met some very nice people. She is a fine old lady. We have now got the ship alongside of the hulk, and are busy getting everything on board her again that had been taken out to lighten her to go into dock—guns, provisions, and a great flitting entirely.

I had a letter from Aunt Jane on New Year’s Day. The old lady is a capital correspondent. She had a little to say about every one of my friends, and all in a short pithy style much to be admired. I do not expect to be above ten days longer here, but hope to hear from you or Lewis before we leave. My kind regards to my friends at Grange.—Your very affectionate brother, 

John Irving.

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