In February 2015 I set about researching a historical fiction novel set in the Boyne Valley, Ireland. The idea for the book struck me after reading a thesis essay by Gareth Yore on an eviction that took place at Dowth, Co. Meath in 1880.
Since then, I have travelled to a number of different sites to try and get a feel for what life was like in the 19th century. On the way, I have collected some pictures.
I have always been fascinated by 19th century culture – particularly late 19th century Victorian and Edwardian times. Who knows, perhaps part of my soul lived back then?
In today’s post, I share some of those images.
I was taken by the abandonment of the above scene at Dowth. The railings now bent by a century of batterment, leave a sorry and woeful memory of what must have been a magnificent sight. The thick gate pillars may well have built using material from Dowth as most of the gates and buildings along this road would have been.
In London I visited the Victoria and Albert Musuem and spent a very geeky hour glued to anything that said ’19th century’. I was particularly taken with the fashion displays of authentic clothing from the era. I’ve come to understand that surviving clothing tends to be only from the very rich – rag clothing, as most ‘normal’ people would have been wearing would have been handed down so much, that it eventually disintegrated or ended up stuffed in a mattress. The poor, or working class, made their own clothes or bought second hand.
I’ve also started to get a feel for the different fashions. Like any century, fashion trends came and went. You can see the fashion changing dramatically towards the end of the 19th century, when less became more, the large dresses dropped and women began to wear more practical and less lavish clothing.
In Drogheda Millmount Museum I got up close to their displays of 19th century homewares and domestic items. The above mangle (pictured top right) was a helping hand on the dreaded wash day. There would have been plenty of black bicycles on the road too, with people travelling to where they needed to go and delivery boys racing round with their goods.
In my novel the characters attend the Boyne Regatta, which was one of the biggest calendar events of the year. People travelled by train from all over to watch the competing teams race down the Boyne. It’s hard to imagine such an event now, with rowing largely thought of as a thoroughly English, upper class sport. The people captured above would have sat on Marsh Road side of the river with the rest of the crowd on the the opposite side.
I visited Townley Hall on their open day; the house is rarely open to the public. Above you can see the fountain leading up to the front door, the giant column surrounds at the front door and a picture of the back of the house where two rooms are blocked up. When we were children, we were always told that these rooms were blocked up because they were haunted. The house features 365 windows; you can look out of a different window each day of the year.
Inside Townley Hall, there are beautiful feature ceilings. The stairs pictured lead down to the kitchen and servant quarters. The dome ceiling is a particularly celebrated feature of the Francis Johnson designed house and sheds light into the centre of the house.
We visited Lissadell House, Co. Sligo on our recent staycation. The house is packed with antiques and interesting photographs and artefacts. I liked that the house wasn’t too shiny – it felt lived in and not clinical like some state owned or museum properties can be. Above you can see a toy room packed with antique toys and the old kitchen dresser. At one time in the mid 19th century, the kitchen caught 300 rats in one week. Seems most people were used to sharing their lives with furry creatures back in the day.
In the American Ulster Folk Park, we spent a fascinating three hours wandering around, visiting the buildings and chatting with the living history actors, who could tell us in minute detail about the lives of the people who lived then.
Finally, I leave you with some landscape images of where my novel is set. This is the actual lane where the family lived. Above right is a broken gravestone where they are buried. Every time I visit, I’m taken by the pure beauty, freshness and spirit of this ancient landscape. I hope my book will do it some justice.
You can read a short excerpt of my novel on writing.ie