The Mitchelstown caves, formerly known as the Kingston Caves, are shown as immense and atmospheric. A lone man standing to the right, brandishing a stick, gives the scale, amidst impressive rock formations which include stalagmites and stalagtites, some joining up to form columns.
Inscribed in Image
|Keywords(s)||Caves, Men, Rock formations|
|Published / created||1839|
|Travel Account||Rambles in the South of Ireland|
|Print or manuscript|
|Location of image in copy||Vol. 2, facing p. 14|
|Source copy||James Hardiman Library, National University of Ireland Galway Special Collections: 914.190481 CHA|
Related text from travel account
|The Mountain Lodge is well furnished, and all the rooms ready for the reception of guests at any moment. Books laid out on the tables, and luxurious chairs, give the rooms a most comfortable appearance.
Attached to the house is a pretty flower and fruit garden, stables, farm, and everything complete. This pleasant dwelling, situate near the Galtee mountains, and about six miles to the north of the castle, - another now building in Arraglen, at about five miles' distance to the south-west, and a pretty cottage in another direction, are grand appendages to the estate, and put me very much in mind of the residences of the German princes. The estate consists of about ninety [p. 5] thousand acres. From the Mountain Lodge most delightful excursions may be made among the Galtee mountains, some of the highest in Ireland, and abounding in wild scenery, legendary tales, and fairy superstitions.
A pretty drive along a good road, cut in the steep side of the glen, brought us in another hour to the hill containing the caves, which have of late become such an object of attraction to strangers. Here we made such alterations in our dress, as were said to be requisite for our adventurous excursion into the mysterious depths of the earth. Such of the gentlemen as were not provided with shooting jackets, put white shirts on over their coats, and leaving their hats under the care of various damsels on the outside, proceeded to enter the cave with pocket-handkerchiefs tied round their heads. We formed a most strange group; the dresses not being very becoming. The wild-looking peasant girls, with their long flowing hair and showy-coloured attire, holding lighted candles to escort the ladies, were by far the most picturesque of the party.
The whole thing was managed by Gorman, a neighbouring farmer, who first discovered these caves. He stood at the door, and with queru- [p. 6] lous and vehement gestures, scanned the party of peasants who were to enter, and scolded those who seemed disposed to follow without leave. When all was ready, the little door was opened, and disclosed the dismal darkness within.
I do not know when I have been so impressed with a feeling of awe, as while clambering down the ladder, which leads by a steep and narrow passage to the caves. The passage is long and uneven, and in some places so small that we were obliged to crawl along: in others it suddenly opens, but as the lights carried by the guides are not sufficiently bright to shew the extent, the space only adds to the deep gloom.
The first large cave we entered is called the House of Commons; it is about 160 feet long. Here Gorman wisely dispersed the men with the lights, making us all stand together in the centre; thus we were left comparatively in the dark, while the distant sides and summits of the cave were illuminated. Gorman then shouted to the men in Irish; and their voices reverberating in the recesses of the cavern, sounded most wild and unearthly; indeed, I have always [p. 7] found, that the wild eagerness of the Irish gestures and tones, inspires with a feeling of fear those who are not accustomed to them; it is almost impossible to imagine they are not quarrelling.
In a few minutes we all collected together again, and proceeded up and down, and round about, stumbling and crawling along passages, narrow and wide, till we reached the cave called the House of Lords. This is indeed grand and beautiful. It is, I believe, about 250 feet in length, and there are stalactites in pillars and pendant drops, of every size and form. The largest pillar is called the Tower of Babel; near it, is a strange mass of brilliant white-fluted stalagmite, called the Turkish Tent; not far off is a large mass called, and indeed resembling, a gigantic bee-hive; another, the Organ, along the white pipes of which the men passed a stick, when the sound produced was something like that of pandean pipes.
At the further end of the cave are two fine stalactite columns, called Hercules' Pillars, with another of beautiful and somewhat Corinthian form, for which fifty pounds have been offered. A fine mass at the side of this my guide said [p. 8] was Madam Branch. "And who is Madam Branch?" I enquired.
"Oh! yer honor," exclaimed a man near; "'tis mistaking the girl is; 'tis not the name of a woman at all at all, that's on it; but the avalanche is what they call that, and they say 'tis a large lump of snow that falls down from the mountains in foreign parts, and smothers alive every mother's son it comes next or nigh to."
In the same cave is Alladin's Lamp, a large stalactite suspended from the roof, something in the form of a lamp, which is transparent; and when candles are placed behind, it shines with a pink light, which has a beautiful and magic effect. This, and an enormous mass of flowing drapery-like looking stalactite, called the Queen's Mantle, and a fine piece which projects on one side of the cavern, called the Angel's Head, and a pillar bearing the name of Lot's Wife, are among the most beautiful of the immense number of objects contained in these extraordinary caverns.
When we arrived again at the House of Commons, being much fatigued with the scrambling, climbing, and sliding walk, I remained at a place in the centre, called the "stone of rest," [p. 9] while the others of the party proceeded to mount to a higher tier of caves, which have been named Lord Kingston's Halls. Although my friends told me afterwards that these galleries were extremely beautiful, I would not have missed, on any account, the lonely hour I passed in the vast cave.
A pretty girl, one of Gorman's daughters, remained with me, and her single candle, and bright, wild countenance, were all I had to cheer the dark place, and remind me of the real world, and common things above. Soon I even forgot her presence, so absorbed was I in the strange and indescribable feelings which this wonderful place produced.
There was something peculiarly awful in the dead, still darkness of the place. The solitude was so deep—all around was so totally unlike anything I had before seen, that I almost felt as if I had been transported to some other planet, and condemned to eternal loneliness.
The numerous galleries, and the confusion of the whole scene, added very much to the awful feelings it inspired. "No wonder the peasants who come here should be superstitious," thought I; for the flickering light, as the girl [p. 10] moved, threw the shadows of rocks, stalactites, and fragments, into a thousand unearthly shapes.
And now, I started with real terror, as I beheld the gigantic black shadow of a human figure rise slowly against the remotest side of the dim cave. "What is that?" I exclaimed, turning round in horror to the girl, who was, with an arch expression on her pretty face, slowly moving the candle downwards behind me.
"Faix, 'tis nothing at all but yer' honor's own shadow ye do be looking at there; and see here's mine; now I'll come up on the other side," she continued, raising the candle above her head, and then slowly lowering it, which caused the immense shadow cast by her figure to rise out of the distant depths in the most mysterious and awful manner.
Though I knew the cause, I could scarcely help trembling at the strange appearance; so wishing to dispel my foolish fears, I entered into conversation with the girl. [p. 10-14: conversation, and colourful account of the finding of the cave, demonstrating the superstitious character of the local people.]
For the annexed view of the interior of Mitchelstown cave, I am indebted to Miss Atchinson. It gives a very good idea of that part of the cavern which is called the House of Lords.
The Irish are not a moralizing people, and yet most of their old legends and fairy tales contain a good moral. The girl who helped me through the difficulties of the caves, and in doing so nearly dislocated my arms, and was twice on the point of setting my petticoats on fire, in her eagerness to prevent me from tumbling down the dark abyss: this said wild-looking, good-natured damsel whispered in my ear, after we had emerged from its shadowy depths, a legend of the cave. [p. 14-17: tale of sheep lost forever in the caves, and disappointed love.] [Vol. 2, p. 4-17]