KERRY SOCIAL HISTORY

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

In the western part of the county the houses were built after the Spanish fashion, with stone balconies in front; as there was a great communication with the Spaniards and Portuguese, who visited the coast annually in considerable numbers to fish for cod, which circumstance also accounts for the names given to some of the towns. The mountainous parts are chiefly inhabited by herdsmen, who feed and clothe themselves from their own lands, consuming but little of the produce of other places: their habitations are low smoky huts covered with coarse thatch. In some parts the women have a becoming dress, consisting of a jacket of cloth, with loose sleeves, made to fit close round the neck and bosom, and fastened in front with a row of buttons: this is considered to be a relic of the Spanish costume. They marry at a very early age. The peasants are generally well-proportioned, with swarthy complexions, dark eyes and long black hair, exhibiting, in the opinion of some, strong traces of their Spanish origin. They are a frank, honest race, of very independent spirit, acute in understanding, and friendly and hospitable to strangers.

The Dingle mountains being dry and healthy, are very populous: those to the south are but thinly peopled. The state of the peasantry in the northern part of the county is much worse than that just described. In many places they are badly housed, the family and the cattle, including the pig, being inmates of the same apartment; the floors sunk below the level of the soil; the bedding, straw, hay, or dry rushes; their clothing scanty; nearly two-thirds of the population bare-legged; the diet, potatoes and sour milk; the wages, tenpence a day in spring and harvest, and at other periods the labourers are wholly unemployed. Between Tarbert and Listowel many of the cabins are built of stone without cement, the doors being of wicker. The people in general, though superstitious, querulous, and, from want of regular employment, of an idle disposition, are inquisitive and extremely intelligent. It is well known that classical learning was sought after even to a fault among the lower orders throughout the county, many of whom had more knowledge of the Latin language than those of the higher classes in other parts. The practice of "keening" at funerals, which in many parts is falling into disuse, is here retained in full force.

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