Jottings of my Life in Tyrone, Ireland – More Picnics and Parties
More Picnics and Parties
I have already mentioned how we used to get up picnics and visit places of ‘interest in the neighbourhood. One place in particular was Cong, a little town situated at the head of Lough Corrib. You can go either by road or by the steamer that runs between Galway and Cong. It is quite a nice trip up the River Corrib and then on the lake. Cong has quite a number of beautiful pieces of architecture scattered through the district. The abbey is partly situated on Lord Ardilaun’s grounds. (Ashford Castle). Some of the ruins have been repaired by his father, Sir Arthur Guinness and placed under proper control. He also rebuilt some of the arcade. St. Fechin, who erected several churches in the 7th Century, built one here. The abbey, however, was founded’ in 1129, by whom we do not know. King Roderic O’Connor, one of the last native kings of Ireland, spent the last few years of his life here.
The beautiful Cross of Cong, enclosing a piece of the true Cross, is only about two feet high and is covered with gold tracery of wonderful fineness. It is now in the National Museum on Kildare Street, Dublin. It was discovered in an old oaken chest in one of the little cottages in a village near Cong. The cross was made about the year 1123 for the Archbishop of Tuam, and is supposed to have been brought to Cong by King O’Connor. One of St. Patrick’s teeth was also kept in the abbey, and that, too, is now in the Dublin Museum.
The village folk here have a very quaint custom when they attend a funeral. After the service at the abbey, the procession stops at the cross-roads, and there, underneath an ash tree several crosses are left. I am told the same custom is prevalent in southern France.
In the demesne owned by Lord Ardilaun was a lovely flower garden where I have spent many a pleasant afternoon among the beautiful roses, for which Lady Ardilaun was famous — I prefer flowers than ruins any day!
After saying “Goodbye” to our friends in Cong, we usually took the steamer back to Galway. What a nice trip that was, especially on a fine sunny day. The lake is generally as smooth as glass, and there is plenty of room on board to stroll up and down the boat. 0n the right-hand side you pass the little town of Oughterard, surrounded with trees and well-tilled fields. There is wonderful trout-ﬁshing there. On the left you can see, in the distance, the ruins of Clare-Galway Castle with its tower still intact. Soon after entering the River Corrib, you pass Menlough Castle with its gardens still in bloom. As you near Galway, you come to Old Castle, at one time the seat of the DeBurghs, a famous family in days gone by. Then comes the weir at Galway with the salmon fishery about which you hear so much. The men use sein nets here. I have often watched them haul in boat-loads of salmon and hit each one-over the head with a club before packing them in crates for the Dublin and English markets.
Another enjoyable time was when we went out on a moonlight night to watch the fishermen haul in the herrings glistening with their silver sheen into the boats — one of the most entrancing and beautiful sights imaginable. In our boat, we would have a fire and all sorts of good things to eat and drink. So, with the addition of some fresh herrings which we cooked over the glowing embers, we had a meal with a flavour that would linger in the memory for months afterwards. How we used to look forward to such delightful trips!
The idea for a moonlight picnic had its inception with my Aunt Matilda St. George, who was considered the handsomest woman in the county. A perfect and graceful horsewoman with a lovely figure, she was easily the belle of the hunt when fox-hunting was in season. She was thought simply charming everywhere she went. The men, of course, all fell for her and tried to outdo each other with gifts and attention — all to no purpose. There were men from every walk in life, and she kept them all going. I think she was bit of a flirt. In fact, she must have been. There were:
Army men, rich gentlemen,
One or two were clergymen.
And some she had never met before
All showered her with gifts galore.
Somehow this show of love miscarried,
For dear Aunt Tilly never married.
She was the only unmarried sister at home, and she kept the house full of visitors all the time. The dinners, followed by midnight suppers, were never over until the early and sometimes late hours in the morning. Then, of course, there would be breakfast in bed and quite a few visitors would remain in their bedrooms until lunch time. She would interview the servant while in bed and arrange for the day’s programme. Shooting, hunting and fishing parties would be arranged, and all sorts of provisions and liquors would have to be ready and so many servants told off to attend on us. Sometimes a party of us would take boats and go out to one of the islands in the bay. A large marquee would be erected with smaller tents all around it. The marquee would be used as a dining or general social room, and the smaller tents would make nice little shelters for spooning couples who wanted comparative solitude. Dancing, singing and having a good time generally, we would remain there far into the night.
The fishermen used nets for the herrings and we ourselves would hunt for cockles which abounded on the island. The fish were cooked, the cockles boiled and tea made, so, with other additions, we had a regular feast. One night our boats got stranded on a mud flat, and our people at home got frightened so they sent off rockets to try to locate us. I remember it was a beautiful moonlight night and in getting off the mud, we somehow got mixed up in the herring nets. But the fishermen, who were tenants of ours, took it quite pleasantly and were not a bit put out, knowing, as they did, that they would be well compensated for any damage we did.
At other times, we would get up a mackerel fishing picnic, which I just loved. We had a line out from the boat and, when a fish bit, we would drag it in all glowing with the most beautiful colours. It would be cooked right there while the life had hardly gone out of it, and oh, how delicious it tasted – much more so when I think of the fish we eat here in California, that has been kept on ice for perhaps a week or more. Of course, we were always well supplied with fresh fish at our home since the people brought in all that we needed. I have seen dozens and dozens of lobsters being bought and boiled while still crawling around the big iron pot. Many of the tenants would rather sell the fish to us than take them to market as the price there was not as good as they could get from us.
With my brothers and cousins making up a merry party, picnicking on the beach was most delightful. We would make a fire of brambles, and then search for limpets or lampreys, as they are sometimes called. They are a pyramid-shaped shell fish that adhered to the rocks in clusters and when the tide was out, we could out them off quickly with a sharp knife. If we did not get them off with the first slash downwards, they would stick so hard that nothing could move them. We would then wash and cook them for quite a long time, and then pick them from the shells, get the pan ready, and fry them. They were simply delicious, and with other additions, made a hearty meal out on the beach.
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Written by Elizabeth La Hiff Lambert
Published here 09 Sep 2022 and originally published 1979
Page 0100 of Athenry History
Cong, County Mayo, Ireland