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Jaunting cars and bolting horses: on the trail of a forgotten Irish travel writer


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The first decade of the 20th century saw a remarkable flowering of books about Ireland as travellers toured the country gathering material for colourful stories. Their gaze often turned to descriptions of the weather and scenery, especially the dramatic seas and skies, the mountains and bogs, and the remorseless wind and rain of the west coast. It was a time when the country was experiencing the awakening of a national consciousness, although most of the writers stayed clear of the political and religious landscape. Instead, they wrote about barefoot women making hay, the hospitality of innkeepers, soirées, shenanigans, and curious customs of Irish social life.

Travel narratives during this period include Spring and Autumn in Ireland (1900) by the English Poet Laureate Alfred Austin; American author of children’s fiction Kate Douglas Wiggin wrote Penelope’s Irish Experiences (1901); in 1905 Frank Mathew’s book, simply called Ireland, was illustrated by Francis Walker. Michael Myers Shoemaker, an American travel writer, released Wanderings in Ireland (1908), while two years later the Daily News journalist R A Scott-James published An Englishman in Ireland.

During the same period Robert Lloyd Praeger was busy compiling his Tourist’s Flora of the West of Ireland (1909) for “the convenience of the itinerant botanist”. J M Synge, who had published his book on the Aran Islands in 1907, was now travelling the byways of Wicklow, west Kerry and Connemara in a “long car” drawn by up to four horses, a descendant of the service established by Charles Bianconi in the early 19th century. Synge contributed topographical essays on rural Ireland to the Manchester Guardian, collected in a volume in 1911 by Maunsell of Dublin with atmospheric drawings by Jack B Yeats.

However, one name from this period that has slipped from the writerly radar is that of the remarkable Samuel Gamble Bayne who died 100 years ago on April 20th, 1924. His digressive 350-mile journey, On an Irish Jaunting-Car through Donegal and Connemara, was published in 1902. It was based on a tour from the northwest, concluding in Queenstown (later Cobh).

Bayne had an inquiring mind and his writing is characterised with the spark and wonder of ordinary life. He enjoyed sites where the past lives on, relating their history and architecture, and his personable style came with humour. The Irish jaunting-car, he wrote, was unique and nothing could take its place “for an easy and comfortable lounging ride, when balanced by two passengers and a driver”. He cautioned that care was “requisite in selecting a car as many of them were old and worn out”.

Their car was pulled by a horse called Bob, but on an open boat journey across Mulroy Bay to avoid taking a circuitous route over high roads, the horse refused to behave and would lash out his heels and prance. A promise was whispered into his ear of oats, turnips, and a bran-mash dessert but the inducement did not help the temperamental animal, which broke loose and jumped ashore while the boat ran aground. Eventually, they managed to catch Bob and the pledge of oats worked its calming magic.

Food often plays a part in travel books and in his hotel at a fishing area in Mayo, Bayne wrote of an “aquarium style of living”, which became monotonous: “They served up salmon boiled and salmon broiled, cold salmon, salmon steak, salmon croquettes, salmon cutlets and stewed salmon, interstices with white trout, black trout, yellow trout, brown trout, sea trout, speckled trout, and gillaroo.”

Bayne was born in Ramelton in north Donegal on November 11th,1844 where his parents ran a grocery shop and owned a run of properties along the Mall. In the 1850s he was sent as a boarder to the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, known as Inst, and after graduating from Queen’s University set off across the Atlantic in 1869 to seek his fortune. Within the next few decades he had achieved his desire in a manner he could never have dreamt of, becoming a multibillionaire by the end of the century.

Bayne made his money through banking and investing in oil drilling. He was engaged in the initial stages of the oil business in the United States, buying the second drilling derrick opened in the country, which was near Titusville, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the American oil industry. His memoir, Derricks of Destiny, was published in 1924, the same year as his death. Bayne founded banks in many states, becoming president of Seaboard National Bank in New York city, which dealt in oil certificates.

In between his work as an oil pioneer and financier, Bayne wrote his Irish travel book. He followed it with the quirkily entitled Quicksteps through Scandinavia With a Retreat from Moscow (1908), and the following year, A Fantasy of Mediterranean Travel, based on his tour around Europe, the Middle East and parts of Africa.

A successful businessman, a prolific philanthropist and travel writer, Bayne died in New York at the age of 79 – his life representing the embodiment of an Irish emigrant who made his mark living the American dream.

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