BANBRIDGE, Northern Ireland — To most travellers who love Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre and the other novels of the Brontë sisters, the Brontë Parsonage Museum in the west Yorkshire village of Haworth is the mecca.
But the story didn’t start there. It began in Ireland, in rural County Down, and now fans can visit what is called the Brontë Homeland.
It’s an auto tour, clearly signposted with brown shingles, along a 16-kilometre circuit south and east of Banbridge and in the shadow of the famous Mountains of Mourne.
This is where Patrick Brunty (the name change came later) taught school (and romanced one of his students!) and preached his first sermon after he was ordained in 1807.
“Patrick was a very talented man in his own right. The girls got the talent from the father; it was in the genes,” says Jason Diamond of Banbridge District Council, who helps publicize the tour. “Here’s a man who came from a two-room stone cottage in Ireland and he produced not one but three of the greatest authors in the canon of famous literature.”
There was Emily Brontë, author of Wuthering Heights; Charlotte, the most prolific of the sisters (Jane Eyre and three other novels); and Anne (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey). All were born in Yorkshire after Patrick was appointed to the parish of Haworth there (and changed the spelling of his surname).
One of the schoolhouses where Patrick taught, at Drumballyroney, has been restored to its late 18th-century appearance. There’s a blackboard, desks, manikins of a teacher and students and, rather incongruously, a wedding dress in a glass case.
“That’s a replica of Charlotte’s wedding dress,” says Diamond. “Notice how thin she was.”
Nearby is the church where Patrick preached his first sermon after returning from his university schooling in Cambridge. This building, now deconsecrated, has also been restored to look as it did in Patrick’s time.
The original Glascar School, where Patrick first taught, was long ago replaced by a more modern building. As we view it, Diamond tells how Patrick was dismissed from his post there because he and a student had become too fond of each other.
Not as serious as it seems, however, for Diamond explains that the girl was a senior and just two years younger than her 20-year-old teacher.
Our next stop is the cottage, still standing, that was the childhood home of Patrick’s mother, Alice McClory. Her parents disapproved of the romance so she and Hugh Brunty eloped.
On, lastly, to the Brunty birthplace. Only the ruins of the two-roomed cottage in a glen at Emdale exist now. The site is cared for by the Brontë Homeland Trust and a plaque marks the spot.
The district council has provided a picnic site along the route, with views across the rolling hills to the Mountains of Mourne, the sights Patrick Brunty would have seen. It’s unlikely he would ever have stopped here, however, for the site was a shebeen, an illegal drinking den, in his time.
Access: For more information on the Brontë Homeland go to the Banbridge District Council website at banbridge.com and click on Places to Visit.
For information on travel in Northern Ireland, visit the Northern Ireland Tourist Board website at www.discovernorthernireland.com.