The Irish Penny Journal
November 21st 1840

Number 21


The little rocky island of Dalkey forms the south-eastern extremity of the Bay of Dublin, as the bold and nearly insulated promontory of Howth forms its north-eastern termination. It is separated from the mainland of the parish from which it takes, or perhaps it gives its name, by a channel called Dalkey Sound, which is about nine hundred yards long, three hundred and eight yards wide at its south entrance, and two hundred and nine yards wide at its north entrance; the soundings in mid-channel varying from ten to five fathoms. The channel was anciently considered a tolerably safe and convenient harbour, and was the principal anchorage for ships frequenting the little castellated seaport town of Dalkey, from which merchandise was transferred to Dublin, as well by boats as by cars. Hence also the harbour of Dalkey was frequently used in former times on state occasions of the embarkation of landing of the Irish Viceroys and other state officers. The Lord Deputy Philip de Courtney landed her in 1386, and Sir John Stanley, the deputy of the Marquis of Dublin, in the following Year. In 1414, Sir John Talbot, then Lord Furnival, and afterwards the renowned Earl of Shrewsbury, landed here as Viceroy of Ireland; and in 1488, Sir Richard Edgecombe embarked at this harbour for England, after having taken the homage and oaths of fidelity of the nobility who had espoused the cause of Lambert Simnel. Here also landed Sir Edward Bellingham, Lord-lieutenant in 1548, and Sir Anthony St Leger in 1553; and it was from this harbour that the Earl of Sussex, in 1558, embarked a large body of forces to oppose the Scottish invaders at the isle of Rathlin; and lastly, again, it was here that the unfortunate Sir John Perrot landed as Viceroy is 1584. The conversion of this sound into an asylum harbour was at one time contemplated by government, and a plan for the purpose was proposed by the Committee of Inland Navigation; but from certain objections which were made to it, the project was abandoned. The situation would certainly have been a more imposing and magnificent one that that ultimately chosen.

The island of Dalkey is of a nearly oval form, having a very irregular surface, in part rocky, and in part consisting of a fertile salt marsh, very valuable for the cure of sick cattle, who by feeding on it quickly recover and fatten. It is five hundred and twenty-eight yards long from north to south, and three hundred and eight yards wide from east to west, and comprises about twenty-nine acres of pasture. Its shore is rocky, and in some parts precipitous, and it commands the most beautiful views of the bays of Dublin and Killiney. Among several springs of fresh water on it, one on its south-west side has long been considered to possess sanative properties, and was formerly much resorted to for the cure of scurvy and other diseases. On the same side there are the roofless walls of an ancient church dedicated to St Benet or Benedict, the patron of the parish; and at its south-eastern extremity there is a battery, and a Martello tower which differs from all the other structures of this class erected on the Irish coast, in having its entrance not at the side but on its tip. It is traditionally stated that during the remarkable plague which visited Dublin in 1575, many of the citizens fled to this island for safety.

Dalkey island has several smaller ones contiguous to it, one of which, denominated Lamb Island, is covered with grass, while the others present a surface of bare granite. Of the latter islets one is called Clare Rock, and another the Maiden Rock, an appellation derived from a tradition said to be of twelve hundred years' antiquity, that twelve young maidens from Bullock and Dalkey having gone over to this rock to gather duilisk, they were overtaken by a sudden storm so violent as to prohibit assistance from the larger island, and all miserably perished. To the north of these islands is situated the group of rocks called the Muglins, extending one hundred and thirty-two yards in length, and seventy-one in width. On those rocks, in 1765, the pirates Mac Kinley and Gidley were hanged in chains for the murder of Captain Glass.

Most of the features we have thus noticed, together with a portion of the adjacent shore of the bay, are exhibited in our prefixed illustration; and to the older citizens of our metropolis, as well as to many others of our countrymen, they must, we think, awaken many stirring recollections of the striking changes in the appearance of the scenery in many districts adjacent to the city, as well as in the character of the citizens themselves, which have taken place within the present century. Its does not, indeed, require a very great age for any of us Dublinians to remember when the country along the southern shore of our beautiful bay, from Dunleary to the land's-end on Dalkey common, presented a nearly uniform character of wildness and solitude- heathy grounds, broken only by masses of granite rocks, and tufts of blossomy furze, without culture, and except in the little walled villages of Bullock and Dalkey, almost uninhabited. The district known as the Commons of Dalkey, which extended from the village to the eastern extremity of the bay, "the Sound," or channel lying on its north-east, and the rocky hill of Dalkey on its south-this in particular was a locality of singularly romantic beauty, a creation of nature in her most sportive mood, and wholly untouched, as it would appear, by the hand of man. Giant masses of granite rocks, sometimes forming detached groups, and at others arranged into semicircular and circular ledges, gave the greatest variety and inequalities of surface, and formed numerous dells of the greenest sward, so singularly wild and secluded that the elves themselves might justly claim them as their own. To these natural features should be added those of the rocky ironbound coast, which its little coves, commanding from its cliffs the most delightful views of Killiney Bay, the Sound, The Island of Dalkey, and the Bay of Dublin. These latter features still remain, and can never change; but of all the others which we have noticed, what is there left? Scarcely a vestige that would remind the spectator of what the locality had been. The rocks have been nearly all removed, or converted into building materials for an assemblage of houses of all kinds of fantastic construction, surrounded for the most part by high and unsightly stone walls; and, except in the views obtained from some spots in it, the picturesque beauty of Dalkey common is gone for ever.

The common of Dalkey is now a place of life-a suburb, as we might say, of the city; but at the period to which we have alluded, it was ordinarily a scene of the most desert solitude. A few cottages stretching from the village along its southern boundary, and a solitary cabin originally built by miners, and which still remains, were the only habitations to be seen. But though thus uninhabited, it was not at all times a scene of loneliness. On Sundays and other holidays its rocks and dells were peopled with numerous picnic or sod parties of the middle class of the citizens. The song went round, and the echoes were startled by the merry notes of the fiddle or the flutes, to which the several groups of happy dancers footed the Irish jig and country dance. Nor were such picnics confined exclusively to the citizens of the middle class-the sporters of jaunting cars and jingles. Parties of higher ranks occasionally assembled here on week days, and had their rural fetes on a larger and more magnificent scale. It was our own good fortune to be an invited guest to one of these, of which we may be permitted to give some account, as an example of a state of manners and usage's of society in Ireland now no longer to be found in person of the class in which we refer. It was a picnic party given by the Alexanders, the Armits, and the present popular and deservedly honoured veteran the Commander of the Forces in Ireland-then lieutenant-colonel of the 18th or Royal Irish Fusileers, which were at the time quartered in Dublin. On the morning of as beautiful a day in June as ever came, the inhabitants of the leading thoroughfares of the city, and those along the road side from Dublin to Dunleary, were surprised by the unusual crowds of open carriages of all kinds conveying the youth and beauty of the aristocracy of the metropolis to the chosen scene; and when the fine band of the Fusileers, in their magnificent full-dress uniforms of blue and gold, were seen to pass along on the same route, innumerable parties of the inferior ranks of the inhabitants of the city and south-eastern suburbs were hastily formed to follow in their wake. At noon, or a little after, not only the majority of the original party were surrounded by rocky cliffs, but those cliffs were themselves covered by a crowd of smaller parties-tributary stars around the more splendid galaxy that occupied the centre of the brilliant scene.

Two splendid marquees were erected at an early hour in the morning-one for the accommodation of the ladies, the other for the dinner party; and two beautiful pleasure-yachts which conveyed a portion of the invited to the scene, rested at anchor in the Sound, and with their white sails and coloured streamers contributed their share of life and beauty to the landscape. Let the reader then imagine what a spectacle was presented when the groups of quadrille-dancers-the beauty and gallantry of the metropolis and its vicinity-commenced dancing on the greensward to the music of one of the finest of military bands-what a delight to the happy multitude of spectators who looked on at the graceful and tempered gaiety of high life! The mind of the accomplished painter Watteau, in his finest pictures of the fetes champetres of the French, never conceived any thing so exquisitely beautiful and romantic.

This party did not disperse till after sunset. After an early dinner, dancing was again resumed; and it is worthy of remark that throughout the day there was not a single instance of rudeness or indecorum on the part of the uninvited spectators-no attempt even to approach beyond the natural rocky boundary which they had chosen for themselves-and that the festivities were concluded with mutual pleasure to all the parties who had participated in them. Alas! of the gay party then assembled-the gentle maidens in all the bloom of youthful beauty, the frank young soldiers, the men of fortune, the delighted parents-of all these how many now lie low! More, reader, than you could possibly imagine! Nor can we avoid exclaiming again, alas that such scenes of rational pleasure, in which the higher and the humbler classes came together in healthful and innocent enjoyment, are not now to be seen in our country as they were heretofore! But while our memory with changeful feelings of pleasure and of pain fondly lingers on the brillant scene we have attempted to sketch, we must not forget that our subject requires of us a notice of festivities of a very different character of which Dalkey was in former times the scene-when Dublin and its suburbs poured forth their crowds to enjoy the fun and drolleries of the crowning of the Dalkey's Insular king!-when Dalkey, its Common, its Sound, and its Island, on a June day annually for several years, presented a spectacle of like, gaiety, good-humour, and enjoyment, such perhaps as was rarely ever exhibited elsewhere. What a glorious day was this for the Dunleary, Bullock, and Dalkey boatmen! Generous fellows! They would take over his majesty's lieges to his empire for almost nothing-frequently for nothing; but, being determined enemies to absentecism, they would not allow them to depart on the same terms, but would mulct those with taxes ad libitum who desired to abandon their country. And again, what a glorious day was this for the jingle-divers of the Blackrock, the noddy-drivers, and the drivers of all other sorts of hired carriages in Dublin! Has it never occurred to the Railroad people to revive these forgotten frolics? What a harvest they might reap! But what de we say? The thing is impossible. The mirthful temperament, the thoughtless gaiety, the wit and humour that characterised the citizens in those days, are gone for ever. The Dublinians have become a grave, thoughtful, and serious people-we had almost said, a dull one. Their faces no longer wear a cheerful and happy look the very youths of our metropolis seem to be ignorant of what merriment is, or at best to suppose that it consists in puffing tobacco smoke!

Ah! Very different were the notions of their predecessors, the nobility and gentry of his Majesty the King of Dalkey! Smoking would not at all have suited their mercurial temperament! It would have been the last thing that they would have thought of to have had their tongues tied and their mouths contorted into ugliness in the ridiculously serious effort to hold a cigar between the lips, and look absurdly important! These fellows thought that mouths were given for a very different purpose-to sing the manly song, to throw forth, not clouds of tobacco smoke, but flashes of wit and humour; and we are inclined to think they were right.

We are not about to describe the annual ceremony of the coronation of the Dalkey king, though we should gladly do so if we had the power, for the memory of it, as an interesting illustration of the character of Irish society is days not very remote, should not be allowed to die. We have indeed been an eye-witness of some of these brilliant follies, but we were young at the time, and our memory only retains a general impression of them. We can recollect that the green island figured in our woodcut, as well as the common, presented one mass of living beings, gaily dressed and arranged into groups of happy parties, each with its own musicians. We can recollect also that the dress of the ladies was almost invariably white, with green silk bonnets- a costume that gave a singularly brilliant effect to the scene. A large marquee was erected about the centre of the island for the use of his Majesty and attendant nobles, and a cordon was drawn around it, within which none others were permitted to enter. There was a military band in attendance upon the royal party; and while the noblemen and ladies of the court danced upon the sod within the bounds, to the music of the state minstrels, the subjects of the monarch danced outside.

Bu these were only the evening festivities. The day was devoted to graver purposes-the landing of his Majesty and nobles, from the royal barge under a salute of twenty-one guns, the band playing "God save the King," and the assembled multitude rending the air with their acclamations! Then the ceremony of his coronation, and afterwards his journey through his dominions, attended by his nobles! At an early hour the monarch with his court proceeded in ludicrously solemn procession from the palace to the church-the roofless ruin figured in our cut-in which the ceremony was performed with a mock gravity which was, however thoughtlessly profane, still irresistibly humorous. The nobles, with painted faces and a profuse display of stars and ribbons, had their titles and appropriate badges of office. There was the grand chamberlain, with his bunch of old rusty keys-the archbishop with his paper mitre and his natural beard of a month's growth! The very titles of those great personages were conferred in a spirit of drollery, and made characteristic of the peculiarities of the individuals who bore them, Thus there was a Lord of Ireland's eye-a grave-looking gentleman who had lost one of his visual organs; a Lord Posey-a gentleman who was remarkable for his habit of carrying a bunch of flowers at his breast; and so on. All the nobility were wits, orators, and generally first-rate vocalists, and the royal visitors were singularly gifted. Charles Inchedon, the prince of ballad-singers of his time, here sang his "Black-eyed Susan" and other charming ditties, and John Philpot Curran, the greatest wit of the world, set the table in a roar with his meteor flashes. But the prime spirits of the court were his Majesty himself. Stephen Armitage, his Lord High Admiral Luke Cassidy, and his archibishop-Gillespy. The long coronation sermon of the latter was one of the richest treats of the day, and produced effects such as sermon never produced before.

During this august and imposing ceremony, the church was not only crowded to excess, and its ruined walls covered with human beings, but it was then surrounded with a dense mass of anxious listeners. As to his Majesty himself, he was at times the gravest and at times the merriest of monarchs, much of his humour consisting in a whimsical uncertainty of his movements, for there never was a crowned head more capricious or changeable in disposition than the King of Dalkey. He would set out attended by his court on a journey to some distant region of his dominions, change his mind in a minute and alter his route elsewhere, and again change it within a few minutes; and all these mutations of purpose were most loyally approved of and sympathised in by his majesty's nobles and subjects. Another trait in King Stephen's character was his love for song; and when the word run through his empire that at the royal banquet his majesty had commenced or was about to commence his favourite "Love is my passion and glory,"there wa scarcely one of his subjects, male or female, who did not make a rush to get within earshot of him. Peace be with thee, Stephen! thou wert a king "of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy;" and though thy reign was short and thy dominions small, thou madest more of thy subjects truly happy than many monarchs whose reigns were as much longer as their possessions were more extensive!

Imperfect as these recollections of the Dalkey festivities are, they will perhaps convey to many who have not hitherto heard of them some slight idea of their character; and they will, we trust, excite some surviving actor in them to perserve their memory in a fuller and more graphice record. They were, it will be seen, a sort of extemporanous acted drama of the Tom Thumb kind, admirably preserving the unities of time and place-the time being one day, and the place-his majesty's empire! As to the theatre on which it was acted, it was most admirably adapted for the spectacle, and had the most abundant accommodation for the audience. The scenery too was real scenery-not painted canvass, that required distance to give it the effect of reality: the greensward, the blue sky and the bluer sea, the rocky islands, the distant hills and mountains, were painted by the hand of the greatest of all Artists; and the theatre, instead of miserable foot-lights, had its illumination from the glorious sun, the greatest of all His visible works!

It may be supposed that these annual festivities must have been productive of scenes of drunkenness and quarrelling, and we cannot state of our own knowledge whether they were so or not; but we have been informed that they did not lead to such results; and the statement would seem true, from the fact that no accident ever occurred to any of those engaged in them-a singular circumstance, if we consider the dangers to which so many persons were exposed in consequence of having to cross the sound in crowded boats at a late hour in the evening.

It was not till after the preceding article had been in type that we were informed that a notice of the Dalkey festivities had recently appeared in the preface to the first volume of the beautiful edition of the poems of our own national poet, Moore, just published; and it adds some interesting facts to those furnished by our own recollections, we gladly present them to our readers, in the perfect confidence that they will be read with that intense pleasure which his writings have rarely failed to afford.

"It was in the year 1794, or about the beginning of the next, that I remember having for the first time tried my hand at political satire. In their very worst times of slavery and suffering the happy disposition of my countrymen had kept their cheerfulness still unbroken and buoyant; and at the period of which I am speaking the hope of a brighter day dawning upon Ireland had given to the society of the middle class in Dublin a more than usual flow of hilarity and life. Among other gay results of this festive spirit, a club or society was instituted by some of our most convivial citizens, one of whose objects was to burlesque, good-humouredly the forms and pomps of royalty. With this view they established a sort of mock kingdom, of which Dalkey, a small island near Dublin, was made the seat; and an eminent pawnbroker named Stephen Armitage, much renowned for his agreeable singing, was the chosen and popular monarch.

Before public affairs had become too serious for such pastimes, it was usual to celebrate yearly at Dalkey the day of this sovereign's accession; and among the gay scenes that still live in my memory, there are few it recalls with more freshness than this celebration on a fine Sunday in summer of one of these anniversaries of King Spephen's coronation. The picturesque sea views of that spot, the gay crowds along the shores, the innumerable boats full of life floating about, and above all, the true spirit of mirth which the Irish temperament never fails to lend to such meetings, rendered the whole a scene not easily forgotten. The state ceremonies of the day were performed with all due gravity withing the ruins of an ancient church that stands on the island, where his mock majesty bestowed the order of knighthood upon certain favoured personages, and among others I recollect upon Incledon the celebrated singer, who rose from under the touch of the royal sword with the appropriate title of Sir Charles Melody. There was also selected for the favours of the crown on that day a lady of no ordinary poetic talent, Mrs Battler, who had gained much fame by some spirited satires in the manner of Churchill, and whose kind encouragement of my early attempts in versification were to me a source of much pride. This lady, as was officially announced in the course of the day, had been appointed his Majesty's Laureate, under the style and title of Henrietta Countess of Laurel.

There could hardly be devised a more apt vehicle for lively political satire than this gay travestie of monarchical power and its showy appurtenances to temptingly supplied. The very day indeed after this commemoration there appeared in the usual record of Dalkey state intelligence, an amusing proclamation from the king, offering a large reward in cronebanes (Irish halfpence) to the finder or finders of his Majesty's crown, which, owing to his `having measured both sides of the road` in his pedestrian progress from Dalkey on the preceding night, had unluckily fallen from the royal brow."



[Kings of Dalkey]

[History Page]

[Dun Laoghaire Home Page]