THE POET OF CASTLECARY

    The Quiet Visitor

Spring came on tiptoe down the bens

Of sea-girt Inishowen,

And glided through the shady glens

Her coming still unknown.

But everywhere her gentle tread

Impressed the eager soil

A creamy primrose raised its head

Beside the rippling Foyle.

Mabel Rose Stevenson was born in Castlecary in 1875. She was a cousin of the novelist Joyce Cary, who was one of her mentors. The lines above are from her book DAUGHTER OF DONEGAL published in 1945 in Los Angeles, far from her birthplace. As I drove along the shore of Lough Foyle this week, through Ballyrattan and on to Redcastle, the poem came into my mind. The magnificent trees that mark out the Cary demesne at Castlecary are cold and gaunt but the warm sunshine of Spring will soon bring a burst of greenery to the landscape.

Mabel married Henry Stevenson (1856-1907) in 1900 in Inishowen before emigrating to Canada and USA. They had a son Arthur Lionel Stevenson in 1902 who became a Professor in Berkeley University. He was  first cousin of Joyce Cary and the only child of Mabel and Henry. Mabel lived for a time at Falmore, Whitecastle and at Clar Cottage before she emigrated.

One of her poems is about a lady called Mary the Milk who came from Ballyharry; she was known to the family as Crazy Mary. In her poem, THE REWARD FOR ENTERPRISE,  she describes how she longs for Inishowen, its mountains and streams. In THE BARTERED BRIDE,  she recalls a lady from Ballynally called Kitty Kelly. In FOWL PLAY, she recalls bleak Drung Hill, which has “scarce a tree”. Her early youth spent at Castlecary and along Lough Foyle provides many vivid and colourful  images for her collection of poems, which are now out of print. 

Donegal’s movie history

In recent years, Inishowen has seen a number of film companies produce major films here but none have gone on the general circuit. Most are available on dvd and one or two were shown on Channel 4. Script writing is nothing new to Inishowen authors. Joyce Cary’s book, THE HORSE’S MOUTH  was the basis for the script of the film of that name starring Alex Guinness and Brian Friel provided some fine lines for Merryl Streep.

I was prompted to write about this topic when I picked up a copy of  THE FOUR FEATHERS  by A.E.W. Mason in the Carndonagh antiquarian bookshop. The book was written in 1902 and was reprinted yearly up to 1939 according to the edition which I have. At first sight, it has little to do with Donegal being a story about the only son of a retired army general called Harry Faversham.  The young man resigned from his army commission when his regiment was posted overseas to fight in Egypt. It was then that he received four feathers, three from his fellow officers and one from his partner. (What I have just learned is that the feathers were regarded as symbols of shame as he was seen as a coward). In the story, the hero sets out to disprove false statements made about him.

My attention was drawn to one of the final chapters, Favershan returns to Ramelton, in which he is described as a well tanned gentleman arriving back from the Sudan. He seeks out Lennon House only to discover that it has been burned down. He is searching for Eithne Eustace who lived in Glenalla. The story moves to the church in Glenalla where he meets the heroine and he learns of her proposed marriage to another person.

It was this section of the story that attracted the film makers to Fanad some years ago. With stories of World War One pouring into the media, the book may see a revival of its popularity although the story pre dates WW1. There have been several film versions of the tale. Heath Ledger featured in the most recent and it is now available in full colour on YOU TUBE. (Sean Beattie  …….I am adding my name as some readers were unaware that I had written the other blogs).

EXCERPT

On an August morning of the same year, Harry Faversham rode across the Lennon bridge into Ramelton. The fierce suns of the Sudan had tanned his face, the years of his probation had left their marks. He rode up the narrow streets of the town unrecognised. At the top of the hill he turned into the broad highway which, descending valleys and climbing hills, runs in one straight line to Letterkenny. He rode rather quickly in a company of ghosts. The intervening years had gradually been dropping from his thoughts all through his journey across Egypt and the Continent. One he stopped when he was opposite the church, set high above the road on the right hand, and wondered whether Eithne was still in Ramelton ……….(see AMAZON for a cheap copy to continue the story or go to YOU TUBE). Page 292, 1939 edition, published by Murray.