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Nicholson, Asenath, 1792-1855 / Annals of the famine in Ireland (1851)

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Among the many interesting subjects of people and things in the city of Cork, may be included as preeminent this beautiful tower, standing upon Mount Patrick, overlooking the pleasant waters of the Lee. It   [p. 252]   is three miles from Cork, on an elevation of eight hundred feet, and was erected by William O’Connor, entirely at his own expense. Theobald Mathew visited London in the year 1843, and his generous reception suggested the idea to O’Connor, who was present, to erect a monument in commemoration of the event, and as an honorable memento to future generations of the indefatigable labors of the great Apostle of Temperance. The history of this spot gives to the visitor a double interest, especially so, when he is told that the founder was a tailor, who, through his shears, was enabled to give three thousand guineas for the tower alone.

A few years since, this now blooming garden of trees, shrubs, and flowers, was a wilderness of woods, and the soil the most unpromising. O’Connor purchased twenty acres, cut down the trees, leaving a few for ornament, dug up the roots, and made an entirely new soil, by materials taken from the mud and gravel of the Lee, at Cork, and planted this new-made land with potatoes, giving employment to a great number of men; and when the harvest was gathered he made the whole of it as an offering of the first fruits to the poor. The Sisters of Mercy shared largely in this donation, as almoners of the gift. He then built a neat cottage, which he inhabited with a sister, who has since deceased. A fine gravelly walk conducts the visitor from the gate leading to the cottage through a rich thicket of laurel, arbutus, and firs, opening upon a tasteful flower ground, descending from the cottage, which is ascended   [p. 253]   by fourteen stone steps with iron railings. On the right and left from the hill, two rooms are fitted up in good modern taste for the reception of visitors. In the center of each stands a table, one containing the periodicals of the day, the other only a large ancient Bible. The walls are adorned with a variety of pictures, some of which are the best specimens of drawing. Two, which are dedicated to the Queen and Prince Albert, and executed entirely with a pen, by McDonnell of Cork, are almost without a parallel. They contain an address by the Mayor, Aldermen, and Council of the city of Cork, on the birth of the Prince of Wales, in 1841. They are both executed in a manner that entitles them to a standing among the highest ornamental works. A portrait of O’Connor hangs in the same room, with one of Edim Forest, and a few others, of the best model. The left-hand room represents the Queen, with an infant on her lap, and another child standing by her side; another of the Virgin and Child of peculiar beauty. A frame-work containing the baptismal cake of one of the Queen’s children, and a vial of caudle. The frame is lined on the back with a piece of satin, embroidered with the crown of the King of Prussia, and is a piece from the vest he wore the sides are of embroidered satin, like that worn by the Queen, with her crown wrought upon it, and which is worn on the baptismal occasions of her children. A fourth is Louis Philippe receiving the visit of Victoria, in France, beside two other pictures not named. In the hall hangs the picture of the “testimonial”   [p. 254]   or tower, and opposite is the monument of Scott.

In a little opening at the back of the hall, is a glass case, containing a choice collection of shells, and on each side from this are two nicely-furnished bed-rooms; these rooms with a kitchen include all the dwelling part. Two wings, with artificial windows, are attached to the cottage; the glass, frame and blind, are such a finished imitation of the reality, that one must touch them to be convinced of their mockery. Two winding paths from the cottage lead up the ascent to the monument. A circular stone-wall containing a small fountain is the first object, in the center of this is a curiously-wrought pedestal, surmounted by a large basin, in which is seated a boy, whose business is to spirt water from his mouth through a small tube, when any one is so kind as to open a pipe underground, by a key, which pipe communicates with one from the top of the tower, which conveys the water from a cistern fixed near the top; near this fountain stands a boy, grasping in his hands a snake, which is wound about one leg; but the boy holds him fast in defiance: this is the serpent alcohol. On the right of the boy stands an angel to strengthen him. Theobald Mathew is standing back, and over this group, in a figure larger than life, with his right hand pointing to the fountain, while his left arm rests upon a pedestal. Above all this stands the testimonial, the door facing the west. Two dogs are resting upon a pedestal at the entrance; both are portraits of one dog, who saved the lives of   [p. 255]   eight men who fell into the Thames. He was elected a member of the Humane Society of London, and now wears a gold collar. Next the door stand two warriors, one a Roman, the other a British officer, representing the two religions.

Peeping over the wall is the head of a gray horse, and around the tower are various statues; the first is Fidelity, represented by a female with a dog looking up to her face; Faith, with a cross; Hope, with an anchor; Charity, with a child in her arms; and Plenty, with a bunch of wheat in her hand.

The tower is circular, though all in one massive pillar, yet it has the appearance of two, one smaller and taller, with the union jack waving from the top. There are two apartments in this tower, the window cases and frames are of fluted oak, surmounted by carved heads, stucco-work is over these, and continued along the ceiling. Inclosed in a glass shade, on a rosewood pedestal, is a model bust of the apostle Mathew, and over this, one of the Right Rev. Dr. Murphy, Bishop of the Catholic church. A massive chimney-piece has upon it a basso-relievo figure of Father Mathew, holding in one hand Britannia, in the other Erin, the emblems of both countries surrounding them. A large chandelier is suspended from the ceiling, and the upper portions of the windows are of stained glass. This circular room is sixteen feet in diameter.

This description is minutely given because there are pleasant and painful reminiscences of my visit to that spot. Theobald Mathew was there, he is now in the   [p. 256]   land of my fathers; friends were there that will meet me no more; and the generous heart was there who fitted this enchanting elysium for the man he so much honored, and for the happy resort of friends who might honor him too. The cottage, the garden, and testimonial are there. The hyacinth, the rose, the holly, and fir, are still blooming in fragrance and verdure; but, alas! the heart that designed and the hand that completed them are cold in the dust. That relentless scourge the cholera, which has spared neither age nor station, has laid him low; and who will trim afresh that hill-side, and brighten the neat cottage and pretty summer-house, for the happy eye and sweet resting spot of the visitor and stranger? Who will keep open the welcome gate that introduces to shrubbery walks of arbutus and flower-beds; and to the chaste testimonial, which has been and must be the admiration of every eye that has rested upon it? Will it fall into hands that will add fresh garlands to honor the memory of him who erected it? Who will still say to every lover of temperance and beauty, “Come in freely and banquet on these delights of nature and of art?” Or will contracted minds and penurious hearts close its gates to all but aristocratic passports and shilling fees? Let sacred respect for the honor of the generous departed forbid it; and let love for the benevolent apostle to whom it was dedicated, forbid it.

While penning these pages, intelligence of the death of O’Connor was forwarded me by the pen of one who first introduced me to that spot, and this circumstance   [p. 257]   prompts to the insertion of the following documents, as a tribute of respect due to the deceased, and which to me are doubly valued, because this tribute did not wait till he to whom it was owing should be no more. What a comment on good sense and justice, what a mockery of the dead, to write eulogiums and build costly monuments to him who, while living, was carelessly neglected, or willfully despised! O’Connor’s history, as was related by a friend, was simply this: He was the son of a poor widow, belonging to a rural district, and was early sent to Cork, where he acquired the trade of a tailor, and by persevering industry, good conduct, and economy, he became first in the profession of a merchant tailor, and through his shears he amassed a handsome fortune, before reaching the meridian of life. With this fortune, let the Mathew Testimonial tell part of the honorable use he made of his money. He had no family, but his attachment to friends was deeply manifest in the love he bore toward the sister, who lived with him in the cottage on Mount Patrick. He left it when she was buried, and said he could never tarry in it another night, and observed that it was purely out of respect to strangers that he ever visited it.

The origin of the letters which follow was simply this: When going over these grounds, through the cottage, and through the tower, but one item seemed to be wanting to make the whole complete, that was, a few choice literary books to grace the center-table of that otherwise well-fitted drawing-room. It was proposed   [p. 258]   to a few friends, and was done without any intention of display, or wish to have it thus memorialized. A letter was sent me the following day, and an answer returned the next. They both unexpectedly appeared in print, in the Cork Examiner, a few days after, where they doubtless would have slept forever, had not the death of O’Connor revived so painfully the visit to that beautiful spot.

If ever vanity, ambition, or pride, have stimulated me to seek notice or applause from men, these propensities have been so subdued, that when contempt has been added to privation, I have felt an inward gratitude, that since in Ireland so few comparatively hindered my labors by false attentions and fulsome flatteries, which travelers too much seek in foreign lands; and never should any of the neglects or rudeness which have been received been recorded; were it not that the character of the people was the object to find out and show, rather than to draw pity or favor to myself: —


Last week, Mrs. Nicholson, now well known by her tour on foot through Ireland, and the very interesting book which she has written descriptive of her wanderings, paid a visit to Mount Patrick. She was accompanied by some friends. She was met by the Very Rev. Mr. Mathew, Mr. O’Connor, the hospitable proprietor, and some other gentlemen. After visiting the Tower, which is now superbly finished, and promises to   [p. 259]   stand in firmness and durability, for the next five hundred years, and perambulating the grounds which are laid out in a highly ornamental style, the parties partook of lunch, which consisted principally of fruits and coffee. Mrs. Nicholson, and the friend who accompanied her, are, besides being strict total abstainers, also vegetarians, disciples of a strict dietetic school, in which no animal food is permitted. The object of her visit was then announced; it was to present to Mr. O’Connor, a small but beautiful select library, in testimony of her ardent respect for the cause and the Apostle of Temperance, and in kindly appreciation of the services and worth of Mr. O’Connor, who not only built a testimonial unexampled in the history of such memorials erected by private individuals, but with a hospitality that cannot be over-estimated, throws open his grounds daily to the public. Mrs. Nicholson presented the following short address:—

“These volumes are presented by a few friends of temperance, in grateful acknowledgment of his generosity in throwing open his tasteful and beautiful place to the public, and for the purpose of affording a profitable recreation to its numerous visitors; with a desire that the lovely spot may be ever sacred to that glorious cause, to whose most successful and untiring advocate it has been dedicated, and to the advancement of universal philanthropy.

  [p. 260]  

The reply was as follows: —

MADAM, — I receive the books with pride and pleasure. The subject of each volume, and the names of the authors remarkable in our literature for their genius or scientific knowledge, are the best tests of your own pure taste and judgment.

Ten years have elapsed since I found this spot a wilderness — four since a monument, I hope an enduring one, has been erected, to perpetuate, in a small degree, the true greatness and glory of the Christian benefactor of Ireland. As that monument belongs to him and the public and as those grounds, which you and others have been pleased to eulogize, are but the abiding place of the Tower of Temperance, so my gates have never been closed, and never shall be, against visitors, whether they be residents of our own favored but unfortunate land, or citizens of Europe, or of your own great country.

It is a singular spectacle to witness — a lady gently nurtured and brought up, giving up, for a time, home and country and kindred — visiting a land stricken with famine — traversing on foot that land from boundary to boundary — making her way over solitary mountains and treading through remote glens, where scarcely the steps of civilization have reached, sharing the scanty potato of the poor but hospitable people, and lying down after a day of toil, in the miserable but secure cabin of a Kerry or Connaught peasant. All this is unusual. But above it shines, with a steady light, your sympathy, your benevolence, your gentleness of   [p. 261]   heart, and your warm appreciation of the virtues, rude but sincere, of a people whose condition it is necessary to improve, in order to make them contented and happy.

The first step to raise them socially, to create in them self-respect, and elevate their shrewdness into the wisdom of morality, has been taken by the MAN whom you revered so much, and to whom and not to me, you have this day paid a grateful and graceful tribute. May he live forever in the memories of his country!

You are about to depart for your own great country, because you could not witness again the desolation of another famine. But you will carry back from Ireland the heartfelt sense of her people for past kindness, to your Christian countrymen. To them, to the generous people of England, and to the Society of Friends in England, Ireland and America, we are indebted, but utterly unable to discharge the debt.

Again, Madam, expressing my deep sense of your kindness and personal worth, and wishing you many happy years in your beloved America,

I beg to subscribe myself,
Your grateful servant,


SIR, — The unmerited compliment you publicly bestowed on a stranger, in the last week’s Examiner, deserves   [p. 262]   a public acknowledgment, and the more cheerfully given, because it affords an opportunity of saying, that not to me alone is the honor due of the small bestowment of books upon your table. It says, “there are hearts in Cork that do appreciate the Mathew Testimonial, as well as the noble generosity of the man who designed it, and though small the offering, it may be the prelude to more liberal demonstrations of a people’s gratitude.”

These few volumes, it is hoped, are but the alphabet to a well chosen library that shall one day grace a room in the Tower, affording the citizen and the stranger a profitable, as well as a pleasant recreation.

And now, sir, allow me to say, that in a four years’ tour through this beautiful isle, from the Donegal sea to Cape Clear — from the mountains of Wicklow to the Killery Peaks, I have never seen from the top of mansion or castle a flag so gracefully waving — a flag on which is inscribed so much love of country — so much just appreciation of worth — and so much that deserves the appellation of “Well done,” as that which is flying in the breeze from the tower of Mount Patrick, and should my eyes ever again look out upon the proud mountains and waters of my own native land, when memory shall revert to the summer of 1848, the brightest and happiest associations will be — the hours passed in the cottage and tower, the garden and walks dedicated to the man who lives for humanity. And though I return to my people with a sorrowing heart, that the tear is still on the long wasted cheek of Erin, yet this   [p. 263]   shall be my joy, that there live among her country-loving sons, hearts that can feel and hands that can act, when worth and virtue make the demand, and to the proud monument of Mount Patrick will I point as a witness, to all who may sail up the green banks of the sweet-flowing Lee.

When the hand of Theobald Mathew shall cease to rest on the head of the pledge-taking postulant, and when he shall have been gathered to the dust of his fathers — when the generous heart that devised the lasting memorial shall have stopped its pulsation forever — on every health-blowing breeze that fans the flag of Mount Patrick, shall be whispered — “Peace to the Apostle of Temperance, who said to the wine-maddened brain of the maniac, Peace be still, who wiped the tear from the face of heart-stricken woman, and who ‘lifted up him that was ready to fall.’”

And when from heaven’s high battlement his gentle spirit shall look down on this Tower, future generations shall rise in succession and call him “blessed.”

And let their long-sounding echo reverberate over mountain and glen, “honor and gratitude to WILLIAM O’CONNOR.”

Ireland “I love thee still.”

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