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The Northern Iron   By: (1865-1950)

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By George A. Birmingham

Dublin: Maunsel & Co., Limited




My Dear Bigger,

This story, as you have already guessed, is the fruit of a recent holiday spent in County Antrim. The writing of it has been a great pleasure, for almost every place mentioned in it recalls the goodness of the friends who received me and made my holiday a happy one. I think of kind people when I write of Dunseveric and Ballintoy of hours spent in their company among the Runkerry cliffs, the sandhills, the Skerries, and of the morning on which I swam, like Neal and Una, into the Rock Pigeons' Cave, I remember a time full of interest and delight spent with you when I mention Donegore, Antrim, and Temple Patrick. My mind dwells on an older, a very dear friend and relative, when I tell of Neal's visit to Belfast. And the book is more than the recollection of a summer holiday. I go back in it to my own country to places familiar to me in boyhood as the mountains and bays of Mayo are now; to days very long ago, when I caught cuddings and lithe off the Black Rock or Rackle Roy and learned to swim in the Blue Pool at Port Ballintrae. Yet I know that I could not, for all that I remembered of my boyhood or learned during my holiday, have written this story without your help. You told me what I wanted to know, you corrected, patiently, my manuscript, and you have helped me to enter into the spirit of the time. For all this I owe you many thanks, and if I have succeeded in writing a story which interests my readers they, too, will owe you thanks.

I have tried to be faithful to the facts of history and to represent the thoughts and feelings of the men who took part in the

"Out, unhappy far off things And battles long ago,"

of which I chose to write. Most of my characters are purely imaginary. Of the men who really lived and acted in 1798 only one James Hope appears prominently in my story. In his case I have taken pains to understand what manner of man he was before I wrote of him, and I believe that, feeble though my presentation of his character may be, you will not find it actually untruthful.

I am your friend,




The road which connects Portrush with Ballycastle skirts, so far as any road can and dare, the sea coast. Sometimes it is driven inland a mile or so by the impossibility of crossing tracts of sandhills. The mounds and hollows of these dunes are for ever shifting and changing. The loose sand is blown into new fantastic heights and valleys by the winter gales. No road could be built on such insecure foundation. Elsewhere the road shrinks back among the shelterless fields for fear of mighty cliffs by which this northern Antrim coast is defended from the Atlantic. No engineer in the eighteenth century, when the road was made, dared lay his metal close to the Causeway cliffs or the awful precipice of Pleaskin Head. Still, now and then, in places where there are no sandhills and the cliffs are not appalling, the road ventures, for a mile or two, to run within a few hundred yards of the sea, before it is swept, like a cord bent by the wind, further inland. Thus, after passing the ruins of Dunseveric Castle, the traveller sees close beneath him the white limestone rocks and broad yellow stretch of Ballintoy Strand. Here, when northerly gales are blowing, he may, if he is not swept off his feet, cling desperately to his garments and watch the great waves curl their feathered crests as they rush shorewards. He may listen, awestruck, to the ocean's roar of amazement when it batters in vain the hard north coast, the rocks and sand which defy even the strength of the Atlantic.

A quarter of a mile back from this piece of road there stood, in 1798, the meeting house of the Presbyterians and their minister's manse. The house stands on the site of a bare, shelterless hill. It is three storeys high a narrow, gaunt building, grey walled, black slated... Continue reading book >>

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