IRISH. HOMES AND IRISH HEARTS.
As the sun disappeared it became extremely cold, and I was very thankful when the car drew up at a large house in the main street at Gort, which, proved to be the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy, There I had such a welcome as one only meets with in Irelaiad, and cold and fatigue were soon forgotten under the genial influence of affectionate hospitality.
Gort is a neat, clean, but wonderfully quiet little town, and the visitor is involuntarily reminded of the author of the ‘Irish Sketch Book,’ who describes Gort as a town which ‘seemed to bore itself considerably, and had nothing to do.’ There is a little stir of life, however, twice a day, on tlie arrival of the mail coach from Galway and Ennis, for at present this old-fashioned mode of conveyance is the only available one between the two towns. A railroad is in course of construction, which is to join the Midland Great Western line at Athenry and which will be a graat boon to the traveller.
Through the town of Gort runs a broad clear river, oh the banks of which stands the convent. It is a large country house, which haa been transformed into a convent, while schools have been built adjoining it. Behind the house are good sized grounds, planted with some of the finest oak trees I ever saw through which the river wends its way. On a rising ground at the end of the grounds is the little quiet cemetery of the nuns.
The schools here struck me as particularly good, the buildings well adapted for the purpose, and the children thouroughly trained and well taught.There are infant schoools for boys and girls, another for elder girls, and a small model school. This latter is an absolute necessity in Gort, and the children of this class could not otherwise obtain any education, there being no other convent of any kind within miles. The chapel is only a large room, fitted up for the purpose, but it is very pretty, and has an air of devotion about it. It was pleasing to see the Sisters, when the labors of the day, were over, assembling in their stalls to say their latin office forestalling thus by prayer and praise the cares and troubles of the coming day.
There is an old fashioned, but clean and comfortable hotel at Gort, almost facing a large plain building which forms the Catholic chapel. A large stone cross stands in the churchyard, and several people were kneeling round it in prayer, when, on the Sunday after my arrival in Gort, I went to the Chapel for nine o’clock Mass. It was like a little bit out of a foreign county suddenly set down before my eyes but on entering within the chapel the scene as contemplated from the gallery was stranger still. The whole floor of the church was given up to the poor, and there are no benches or chairs of any kind. There they stood or knelt, grouped in various attitudes, and in a variety of costumes.
The women in their red petticoats and blue cloaks, when standing together in groups, formed a subject for an artist; here and there were those not rich enough to possess the valued cloak, some of whom had tied bright coloured handkerchiefs over their heads, and others had arranged their poor clothing as best they could. The occasional intrusion of a straw bonnet, or worse, still, a hat, was a painful eyesore to the spectator. There were quite as many men as women, and of all ages, some grey headed fathers with their little ones clinging to them, smart looking youths, and numerous boys.
When the consecration bell sounded the whole mass bent low, many almost prostrate on the ground; it was like an Italian picture, save and except that instead of sculptured marbles or Gothic arches surrounding the multitudes, there rose the plain whitewashed walls of a poor Irish chapel. These whitewashed chapels of Ireland, they jar upon the sight of those accustomed to see all that is noble and beautiful adorning the sanctuary! Yet what shrines they have been of faith and devotion – what witnesses they are to the persevering, unconquerable faith of the Irish!
There were a great many communicants at this Mass, and when it was ended the priest took off his chasuble and advanced to the front of the altar. There was a sudden rush. Up got every body from the floor, and the multitude packed themselves in a compact mass round the altar. The sermon was in Irish; every eye was bent on the preacher, every ear strained to listen, and it was evident, from the gestures of the people, that their whole attention was given to the discourse, and that every point went home.
The eloquent preachers in crowded city churches would often rejoice to have an audience so hanging on their words. I declared afterwards that I understood the sermon very well ; for it was the festival of the Seven Dolours which formed the subject of the discourse; and the gestures of the priest, and the answering emotion of the people plainly told that they were bidden to endure patiently, and to suffer bravely after the example of her whose sorrows no mortal can ever equal.
That Sunday was a cloudless summer’s day, and after the last Mass was over, the kind old parish priest took me to see the great lion of the neighbourhood, Kilmacduagh, some three miles distant. The diocese in which Gort stands rejoices in the poetical names of Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora.