This month we celebrate all things Irish and we’re kicking off by looking at some eighteenth and nineteenth century accounts of travel to the Emerald Isle. Various passages, such as Fishguard-Rosslare or Liverpool-Belfast, are available but, for today at least, our travellers will be sailing from Holyhead to Dublin.Henry Temple, second Viscount Palmerston made the crossing several times – as well as being landowners in Broadlands in Romsey, his family owned estates in County Sligo. He writes to his wife, Mary, from Dublin in 1788:
I just write a few lines to tell you that I arrived here this morning about eleven perfectly well after having been 36 hours on board the packet. On first coming out on Monday night the sea off Holyhead was uncommonly rough and made me very sick […] Yesterday the weather was fine and we were coming on with a tolerable fair wind tho slowly and had hopes of being here in the afternoon when the wind died away and what little there was came directly against us so that tho we were very near Dublin at 4 o’clock yesterday we could not get up till 11 this morning. There was only one passenger beside myself that I saw anything of and he not a conversable man so that I was very glad when the business was over. [MS 62/BR20/5/7]
Packet-boat (or mailboat) was the main mode of transport; these were medium-sized vessels used for mail as well as passengers and freight. Being a sailboat, the journey was heavily dependent on good weather and this is a recurrent theme in the accounts. Johann Kohl (1808-78), a German travel writer, historian, and geographer, considers the Irish Sea has a reputation for being “particularly rough and stormy” although nervous passengers should be reassured that “those who have been little at sea are always more anxious than they need to be in an uproar of the elements.” [Travels in Ireland by J.G. Kohl, 1844 Rare Book DA 975]
The rare books prove a good resource for this topic. Sir John Carr (1772–1832), an English barrister and travel writer, gives an account of his passage in 1805.
The distance was only eighty miles to Ireland: the treacherous winds at starting promised to carry us over in nine hours, but violated its promise by, of all other causes of detention the most insipid, a dead calm, for two tedious days and nights, which was solely attributed by the sailors to our having a mitred prelate on board. [John Carr, The Stranger in Ireland, 1806]
Despite unpredictable and often unpleasantly rough weather, many writers feel duly compensated by the beautiful vistas on arrival. The following account comes again from Kohl:
The Bay of Dublin […] presents a beautiful site to the stranger, especially if he contemplates it on a cheerful morning, from the deck of a steamer in which he has passed a story night. The land, stretching out in two peninsulas, extends both its arms to meet him. In the southern hand it bears the harbor and town of Kingstown, and in the northern the habour and town of Howth.
Sir John Carr was similarly impressed:
As we entered the bay of Dublin, a brilliant sun, and almost cloudless sky, unfolded one of the finest land and sea prospects I ever beheld.
We hopes that the weather was kind to you during your passage and you’re not been left with any nauseous that would impede your exploration of Ireland over the next few weeks. Don’t miss our post next week when we’ll be delving into the literature of Ireland.