A sketch of Ireland during the Famine Photo by: Washingtonhistory.org

Travel writer recalls 17th century Ireland as bleak place where ignorant men ate soap


A sketch of Ireland during the Famine Photo by: Washingtonhistory.org

Born in Lincolnshire in 1566, Fynes Moryson was a travel writer. The Cambridge graduate wrote “An Itinerary” comprised of 12 years of travel through Europe from 1590, including England, Scotland, and Ireland. 

He wrote the book in Latin but later he translated it into English: containing his “Ten Yeeres Travell through the Twelve Dominions of Germany, Bohmerland, Sweitzerland, Netherland, Denmarke, Poland, Italy, Turky, France, England, Scotland, and Ireland.”

According to Library Ireland the The Irish portion of his Itinerary, which spanned the years 1599- 1603, was published separately in 2 vols. at Dublin, in 1735.

His work included invaluable notes on the conditions and living habits if the locals in the countries he visited.

Describing the terrain his Ireland he stated…
“The land of Ireland is uneven, mountainous, soft, watery, woody, and open to winds and floods of rain, and so fenny as it hath bogs on the very tops of mountains, not bearing man or beast, but dangerous to pass, and such bogs are frequent over all Ireland.”

On the caliber of Irish earls…
“The lords, or rather chiefs of countries (for most of them are not lords from any grants of our kings, which English titles indeed they despise), prefix O or Mac before their names in token of greatness, being absolute tyrants over their people, themselves eating upon them and making them feed their kern, or footmen, and their horsemen.  Also they, and gentlemen under them, before their names put nicknames, given them from the colour of their hair, from lameness, stuttering, diseases, or villainous inclinations, which they disdain not, being otherwise most impatient of reproach, though indeed they take it rather for a grace to be reputed active in any villainy, especially cruelty and theft.”

Read more: Will New Jersey Hall of Fame induct Thomas Nast, a racist and anti-Irish Catholic?

On the ignorance of the people…

“It is strange and ridiculous, but most true, that some of our Carriage Horses falling into their hands, when they found Soap and Starch, carried for the use of our laundresses, they thinking them to be some dainty meats, did eat them greedily, and when they suck in their teeth, cursed bitterly the Gluttony of us English Churls, for so they term us.”

On the Irish drinking habits…
“The usquebagh (Irish whiskey) is preferred before our aqua vitae, because the mingling of raisins, fennel-seed, and other things mitigating the heat, and making the taste pleasant, makes it less inflame, and yet refresh the weak stomach with moderate heat and a good relish. These drinks the English-Irish drink largely, and in many families (especially at feasts) both men and women use excess therein.”

On the living habits of Ireland’s poor…
“I trust no man expects among these gallants any beds, much less feather beds and sheets, who like the nomads removing their dwellings, according to the commodity of pastures for their cows, sleep under the canopy of heaven, or in a poor house of clay, or in a cabin made of the boughs of trees, and covered with turf, for such are the dwellings of the very lords among them. And in such places they make a fire in the midst of the room, and round about it they sleep upon the ground, without straw or other thing under them, lying all in a circle about the fire.”

A Cambridge graduate, Moryson died in 1630. The Retrospective Review says of his works: "We speak advisedly and within bounds when we assert that Fynes Moryson's work need not dread a comparison with any other book of travels, so far as amusing and instructive details regarding manners and the state of society are concerned."

Source UCC.ie

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