The Jaunting Car

A symbol of old Ireland

I found some old Dublin newspapers in the attic of the Parochial House one night and I browsed through them to see what I could learn about the past. In one newspaper, dated July 1832. I read a report about the ‘Jaunting Car’ as a method of travel. A ‘Jaunting Car’, as all the Irish people know, is a light two-wheeled carriage for a single horse, with a seat in front for the driver. In its most common form, it had seats for two or four persons placed back to back and with the footboards projecting over the wheels and the typical conveyance for persons in Ireland at one time.

Jaunting Car


The colloquial name for the driver of this type of vehicle was ‘Jarvey’ and there were mainly two types of Jaunting Cat – ‘The outside Jaunting Car’ and ‘Inside Jaunting Car’. The former was the more common type and the passengers faced outward over the wheels. The other type was considered to be the more genteel Jaunting Car, in which the passengers sat with their backs to the sides of the car and faced each other, but some described it as being, “The most uncomfortable kind of vehicle yet invented” (Anthony Trollope). There was a third type of car known as an ‘Inside or Covered Car’ that had oiled canvas arranged on all sides to protect the passengers from the weather, but at the expense of visibility.

Being that these Jaunting Cars are few and far between these days I thought you readers might want to hear what the correspondent of that Dublin newspaper reported, and read about what Dublin was like in those far off days …

“This is properly, an Irish machine. The ‘Jaunting Car’ is almost peculiar to our island. A Scotchman or an Englishman, on first landing at Dublin or Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire), is immediately struck by this peculiarity, but they soon learn to relish so agreeable and handsome a conveyance. It is true that the cars for hire do not present very great temptations, the miserable horses, and too often the squalid, dirty drivers, clamouring for a fare, and underbidding each other with fierce vociferation, while the furious driving and incessant attempts to take advantage of ignorance and inexperience, render the Dublin car-men almost intolerable, (We speak generally) except to those who are content to endure these disadvantages for the pleasure and ease of being conveyed to any part of the city or country. But none who have enjoyed the comforts of that pleasant vehicle, a private car, will quarrel with our designating it agreeable and handsome. Almost every citizen who can afford it, (and we are sorry to add, many who cannot) keeps a car …

“Who has not enjoyed the advantages of the jaunting car: who that has even traversed the beautiful road to Kingstown on the various vehicles denominated ‘DISLOCATORS’, which pass and repass in unremitting whirl; or who that has watched the beautiful daughters of the ‘green isle’ borne through the streets of our extending metropolis on this handsome and commodious vehicle, that will not feel curious to know from what humble principle it has thus risen to perfection. And in good time, have I met with Master Bush’s ‘Hibernia Curiosa’: he was a careful and observant traveller, and feel I cannot do better than amuse you readers
with an extract on the above matter from his work:

A ‘Noddy’

They have an odd kind of a machine here, which they call the ‘NODDY’(See above picture); it is nothing more than an old cast-off one-horse chaise or chair; with a kind of stool fixed upon the shafts just before the seat, on which the driver sits, just over the horse, and drives you from one part of the town to another, at stated rates for a ‘set-down’ and a good ‘set-down’ it is sometimes, for you are well off if you are not set-down in a channel, by the breaking of wheels, or an overset-down it is sometimes; nor can you see anything before you but your nod, nod, nodding charioteer, whose situation on the shafts obliges his victim to be conformed to that of the horse, from whence I suppose they have obtained the name ‘Noddy’. I assure you the ease of the fire is not much consulted in the construction of these nodding vehicles. But the drollest and most diverting kind of conveyance for your genteel and ungenteel parties of pleasure is what they call here the ‘Chaise-marine’, which is nothing less or more than any common car with one horse. A simple kind of carriage constructed with a pair of wheels, or thin round blocks, of about twenty inches in diameter, and axle and two shafts, which over the axle are spread out a little wider than the sides of the horse, and framed together with cross pieces in such a manner as to be nearly in a level position for three or four feet across the axle.

These simple constructions are almost the only kind of carts in common use for carrying or moving of goods, merchandise of every kind, hay, corn, etc, through the kingdom. These are, however, used for parties of pleasure, when on the level part a mat is laid for the commonality, and for the genteeler sort of people a bed is put on this, and a half-dozen get on, two behind and two on each side, and away they drive with their feet not above six inches from the ground as they sit, on little jaunts of a few miles out of town; and they are the most sociable carriages in use, for ten or a dozen will take one of the ‘Chaise-marine’ parties on the Sunday we landed coming out of town as we went up to it from Dun Laoghaire.”  Such was the ‘Jaunting Car’ in 1764 and could the honest gentleman to whom we are indebted for this description “Revisit the moon,” and see the vehicle of 1832, how great would be his praises, and surprise. I shall take an early opportunity of returning to his pages, from whence I have no fear of being enabled to extract much that will be agreeable, useful, and entertaining.”

Pat Donnelly’s Encounter

Pat Donnelly was returning home one night, at about twelve o’clock, in his jaunting car with one side up, for he was carrying no passengers. It was a clear moonlit night, the horse was tired, and Pat smoked his pipe as he relaxed, and he allowed the tired horse to walk slowly along the road.

When they were about half-way home, Pat noticed that two men had suddenly appeared and were walking by the side of the car on which he was lying lazily. “Good God!” Pat Donnelly thought to himself, “where did they come from?” He had heard no footsteps and could not hear any now as they walked by the side of the car, although they were walking quite close to him and were going in the same direction. From his position in the driving seat of the car he had a clear view of the road to the front and to the rear all the way from town, but he had not seen anything until these two men appeared.

He wondered to himself if they had dropped down from the sky or had they risen from the ground? But he laughed at the silly ideas that were coming into his head, for he was sure that knew from where they had come. “Sure, they’re simply two beings from the mystic world who have decided to show themselves,” Pat told himself. “Will you take a lift?” he asked the two men in a friendly manner. When they did not reply, Pat thought, “By Jesus, these two are quare customers.” The two men still walked by the side of the car and their silence continued. Pat sat erect, tightening his grip on the whip, before slackening it again as he began to feel an odd sensation on the top of his head, all over his body and even to the tips of his fingers. There was a shiver that ran through him. But the strange men still said nothing as they walked on and on, at the same steady pace and in the same position with regard to the car.

The longer this went on the more courage filled Pat, and he asked politely, “Do any of you know what time it is?

Do you know what time it is yourself?” asked one of the strangers.

By God!” Pat thought to himself, “These are quare customers, for sure.

Not another word was spoke. The men evidently did not want to say anything, and Pat was much too afraid utter another word. He began to consider that these strangers may not be men at all. They were undoubtedly from another world, but what exactly they were called was a mystery to Pat. So, when they came to a crossroads, Pat parted company with the two strangers and they went off as mysteriously as they had come. One second, they were there and the next second, they were gone.

From the crossroads one of the roads wound its way northward to the hills and then into a more level stretch of road running along the sea. Pat went on and as he did so a strange drowsiness overcame him, forcing him to close his eyes no matter how hard he tried to keep them open. When his eye closed, his head gradually fell towards his chest and then he felt a slap. It was a quick, sharp blow of a cold, open hand on his cheek, and he awoke with a start. But Pat could not tell who it was that slapped him. There was no person about and still felt very sleepy. Why this should be so, he could not tell. Nervously he whipped the horse into a fast trot and suddenly came to a stop again. At the place where the two roads meet, he again caught sight of the two beings who had so recently surprised him, now running. When he pulled up his horse, the two strangers stopped running. Pat blessed himself with the sign of the cross and the mysterious beings vanished for good.

Pat once again fell asleep, totally unconscious of his surroundings and the horse continued on until it finally stopped. Pat awoke with a start and grabbed the rail of jaunting car. Looking around himself, Pat realised that he had come home, and from that moment he would relate his strange tale to all who would listen. Some believed, while other laughed and said that he was dreaming. Pat, however, would indignantly deny any such suggestion. Talking to a priest about the incident he told him, “Maybe you would believe me better after I have shown you this!” He would then point to a peculiar mark upon his cheek, where he had received the blow.

JW