Ireland at the Time of the Plantation

Henry Jones Ford

Documents illustrative of the condition of Ireland at the time of the Ulster Plantation will be found in a volume of the Carisbrooke Library published by George Routledge & Sons, London and New York, entitled Ireland under Elizabeth and James," edited by Professor Henry Morley of University College, London. Accounts by Edmund Spenser, Sir John Davies and Fynes Moryson are included. Moryson, born in Lincolnshire in 1566, obtained a fellowship at Cambridge University. In 1589 he obtained leave of absence for travel until July, 1600. He spent ten years in foreign travel and his account of his observations has been republished in recent years under the title of Shakespeare's Europe. In 1600 he went to Ireland, where his brother was Vice-President of Munster. Moryson was a plodding, unimaginative writer, and his works now possess no interest save as records of fact in which respect they have great documentary value. The following is extracted from his account of Ireland:

"The fields are not only most apt to feed cattle, but yield also great increase of corn. I will freely say that I observed the winter's cold to be far more mild than it is in England, so as the Irish pastures are more green, and so likewise the gardens all winter-time, but that in summer, by reason of the cloudy air and watery soil, the heat of the sun hath not such power to ripen corn and fruits, so as their harvest is much later than in England. Also I observed that the best sorts of flowers and fruits are much rarer in Ireland than in England, which notwithstanding is more to be attributed to the inhabitants than to the air; for Ireland being often troubled with rebellions, and the rebels not only being idle themselves, but in natural malice destroying the labors of other men, and cutting up the very trees or fruit for the same cause or else to burn them, for these reasons the inhabitants take less pleasure to till the ground or plant trees, content to live for the day, in continual fear of like mischiefs. Yet is not Ireland altogether destitute of these flowers and fruits, wherewith the County of Kilkenny seems to abound more than any other part. And the said humidity of the air and land making the fruits for food more raw and moist, hereupon the inhabitants and strangers are troubled with looseness of the body, the country disease. Yet for the rawness they have an excellent remedy by their Aqua Vitae, vulgarly called Usquebaugh, which binds the belly and drieth up moisture more than our Aqua Vitae, yet inflameth not so much. Also inhabitants as well as strangers are troubled there with an ague which they call the Irish ague, and they who are sick thereof, upon a received custom, do not use the help of the physician, but give themselves to the keeping of Irish women, who starve the ague, giving the sick man no meat, who takes nothing but milk and some vulgarly known remedies at their hand.

"Ireland after much blood spilt in the civil wars became less populous, and as well great lords of countries as other inferior gentlemen laboured more to get new possessions for inheritance than by husbandry and by peopling of their old lands to increase their revenues; so as I then observed much grass, therewith the island so much abounds, to have perished without use, and either to have rotted or in the next springtime to be burnt, less it hinder the coming of new grass. This plenty of grass makes the Irish have infinite multitudes of cattle, and in the heat of the last rebellion the very vagabond rebels had great multitudes of cows, which they still, like the nomades, drove with them whithersoever themselves were driven, and fought for them as for their altars and families. By this abundance of cattle the Irish have a frequent though somewhat poor traffic for their hides, the cattle being in general very little, and only the men and greyhounds of great stature. Neither can the cattle possibly be great, since they eat only by day, and then are brought at evening within the bawns of castles, where they stand or lie all night in a dirty yard without so much as a lock of hay; whereof they make little, for sluggishness, and that little they altogether keep for their horses. And they are thus brought in by nights for fear of thieves, the Irish using almost no other kind of theft, or else for fear of wolves, the destruction thereof being neglected by the inhabitants, oppressed with greater mischiefs, they are so much grown in number as sometimes in winter nights they will come to prey in villages and the suburbs of cities. ...

"In cities passengers may have feather beds, soft and good, but most commonly lousy, especially in the highways, whether they came by their being forced to lodge common soldiers or from the nasty filthiness of the nation in general. For even in the best city, as at Cork, I have observed that my own and other Englishmen's chambers, hired of the citizens, were scarce swept once in the week, and the dust then laid in a corner, was perhaps cast out once in a month or two. I did never see any public inns with signs hanged out, among the English or English-Irish; but the officers of cities and villages appoint lodgings to the passengers, and perhaps in each city they shall find one or two houses where they will dress meat, and these be commonly houses of Englishmen, seldom of the Irish, so these houses having no signs hung out, a passenger cannot challenge right to be entertained in them, but must have it of courtesy and by entreaty.

"The wild and (as I may say) mere Irish, inhabiting many and large provinces, are barbarous and most filthy in their diet. They scum the seething pot with an handful of straw, and strain their milk taken from the cow with a like handful of straw, none of the cleanest, and so cleanse, or rather more defile, the pot and milk. They devour great morsels of beef unsalted, and they eat commonly swine's flesh, seldom mutton, and all these pieces of flesh, as also the entrails of beasts unwashed, they seethe in a hollow tree, lapped in a raw cow's hide, and so set over the fire, and therewith swallow whole lumps of filthy butter. Yea (which is more contrary to nature) they will feed on horses dying of themselves, not only on small want of flesh, but even for pleasure; for I remember an accident in the army, when the Lord Mountjoy, the Lord Deputy, riding to take the air out of the camp, found the buttocks of dead horses cut off, and suspecting that some soldiers had eaten that flesh out of necessity, being defrauded of the victuals allowed them, commanded the men to be searched out, among them a common soldier, and that of the English-Irish, not of the mere Irish, being brought to the Lord Deputy, and asked why he had eaten the flesh of dead horses, thus freely answered, "Your Lordship may please to eat pheasant and partridge, and much good do it you that best likes your taste; and I hope it is lawful for me without offence to eat this flesh, that likes me better than beef." Whereupon the Lord Deputy, perceiving himself to be deceived, and further understanding that he had received his ordinary victuals (the detaining whereof he suspected, and purposed to punish for example), gave the soldier a piece of gold to drink in usquebaugh for better digestion, and so dismissed him.

"The foresaid wild Irish do not thresh their oats, but burn them from the straw, and so make cakes thereof; yet they seldom eat this bread, much less any better kind, especially in the time of war. Whereof a Bohemian baron complained who, having seen the Courts of England and Scotland, would needs, out of his curiosity, return through Ireland in the heat of the rebellion; and having letters from the King of the Scots to the Irish lords then in rebellion, first landed among them in the furthest north, where in eight days' space he found no bread, not so much as a cake of oats, till he came to eat with the Earl of Tyrone; and after obtaining the Lord Deputy's pass to come into our army, related this their want of bread, to us as a miracle, who nothing wondered thereat. Yea, the wild Irish in time of greatest peace impute covetousness and base birth to him that hath any corn after Christmas, as if it were a point of nobility to consume all within those festival days. They willingly eat the herb Shamrock, being of a sharp taste, which, as they run and are chased to and fro, they snatch like beasts out of the ditches.

"Neither have they any beer made of malt or hops, nor yet any ale, no, nor the chief lords, except it be very rarely. But they drink milk like nectar, warmed with a stone first cast into the fire, or else beef broth mingled with milk. But when they come to any market town, to sell a cow or horse, they never return home till they have drunk the price in Spanish wine (which they call the King of Spain's daughter) or in Irish usquebaugh, and till they have outslept two or three days' drunkenness. And not only the common sort, but even the lords and their wives, the more they want this drink at home the more they swallow it when they come to it, till they be as drunk as beggars.

"Many of these wild Irish eat no flesh but that which dies of disease or otherwise of itself, neither can it scape them for stinking. They desire no broth, nor have any use for a spoon. They can neither seethe artichokes nor eat them when they are sodden. 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 laundresses, they, thinking them to be some dainty meats, did eat them greedily, and when they stuck in their teeth cursed heartily the gluttony of us English churls, for so they term us. They feed most on white meats, and esteem for a great dainty sour curds, vulgarly called by them Bonaclabbe. And for this cause they watchfully keep their cows, and fight for them as for religion and life; and when they are almost starved, yet will they not kill a cow except it be old and yield no milk. Yet will they upon hunger, in time of war, open a vein of the cow and drink the blood, but in no case kill or much weaken it. A man would think these men to be Scythians, who let their horses blood under their ears and for nourishment drink their blood; and indeed, as I have formerly said, some of the Irish are of the race of Scythians, coming into Spain and from thence into Ireland. The wild Irish, as I said, seldom kill a cow to eat, and if perhaps they kill one for that purpose, they distribute it all to be devoured at one time; for they approve not the orderly eating at meals, but so they may eat enough when they are hungry, they care not to fast long. . . .

"These wild Irish never set any candles upon tables—what do I speak of tables? since indeed they have no tables, but set their meat upon a bundle of grass, and use the same grass as napkins to wipe their hands. But I mean that they do not set candles upon any high place to give light to the house, but place a great candle made of reeds and butter upon the floor in the midst of a great room. And in like sort the chief men in their houses make a great fire in the midst of the room, the smoke whereof goeth out at a hole in the top thereof. An Italian friar coming of old into Ireland and seeing at Armagh this their diet and the nakedness of the women, is said to have cried out

"Civitas Armachana, civitas vana,

Carnes crudae, mulieres nudae."

"Vain Armagh city, I thee pity,

Thy meat's rawness and women's nakedness."

"I trust no man expects among these gallants any beds, much less feather beds and sheets, who, like the Nomades 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 in a circle about the fire, with their feet towards it. And their bodies being naked, they cover their heads and upper parts with their mantles, which they first make very wet, steeping them in water of purpose; for they find that when their bodies have warmed the wet mantles, the smoke of them keeps their bodies in temperate heat all the night following. And this manner of lodging not only the mere Irish lords and their followers use, but even some of the English-Irish lords and their followers when, after the old but tyrannical and prohibited manner vulgarly called coshering, they go, as it were on progress, to live upon their tenants till they have consumed all the victuals that the poor men have or can get."