Skip navigation

Travelers' Accounts

Sir John Carr (an English tourist), 1805

He did not approve of the charter schools, the Protestant schools for children of poor Catholics, and the native hedge-schools he thought were despicable. "In the summer a wretched uncharactered itinerant derives a scanty & precarious existence by wandering from parish to parish, and opening a school in some ditch covered with heath & furze, to which the inhabitants send their children to be instructed by the miserable beardless being who is nearly as ignorant as themselves."

A note on this says, "The Charter Schools, established in 1735, maintained partly by subscription & partly by grants from the Irish Parliament, provided free lodging & clothes. The children were taught a trade & brought up as Protestants. Howard, Wesley, & others reported on them unfavorably, for the education was poor & they were unhealthy & uncomfortable. They were naturally very unpopular with the Roman Catholics, who only patronized them largely in times of famine or distress. The hedge schools provided by the people themselves were actually more efficient. If some of the schoolmasters were odd, the three R's were on the whole well-taught."

Carr gives the "lower Irish" a good character. He thought them remarkable for their ingenuity... He did not find them dishonest or lazy. "It is curious to see with what scanty materials they will work; they make their own cabins & make bridles, stirrups, cruppers, and ropes." He admired their personal beauty & vigor of frame, and praises their hospitality. "The neighbor or the stranger finds every man's door open, and to walk in without ceremony at meal time, and to partake of his bowl of potatoes is always sure to give pleasure to every one of the house, and the pig is turned out to make room for the gentleman." And apropos of their love of music which had persisted through the ages, and was remarked upon by every traveler, he says, "the harp is yet in use; but the Irish bagpipe is the favorite instrument."

- Constantia Maxwell, The Stranger in Ireland, 1954, p. 235-36 (Mil. Lib.)


Mr. & Mrs. S. C. Hall

1838 & 1840 made tours; 5 tours since 1825

England & Ireland "one country"; Repeal - "insane"


"In all our tours we not only never encountered the slightest slay[?] or insult, but never heard of a traveler who had been subjected to either; & thought heedless in business of locking up 'boxes' at inns, in no instance did we sustain a loss by our carelessness." (Vol. I, p. 4)


He was present at the surrender of O'Neill.

He does not approve of the "corrupt customs" of the Irish. Tanistry, for instance, which ignored hereditary principles in the chieftanship, from which he says, "flows a plentiful spring of murders & conspiracies." The chiefs he thought too tyrannical, "eating upon" their people & making them feed their ____ or footmen & their horsemen. He deplores the influence of the bards who stir up the clansmen to rebellion, & of the Jesuits & priests who "swarmed in all places," especially in the houses of the Lords, encouraging them in disobedience to the English magistrates.

- Constantia Maxwell, The Stranger in Ireland, p. 24 (Mil. Lib.)



Sir William Petty (an English physician), 1652

Appointed (1652) Physician to the Army of the Commonwealth in Ireland. He made a survey of the forfeited lands & superintended its redistribution.

He says that 3/4 of the natives lived in a "brutish, nasty condition, in cabins with neither chimney, door, or window, fed chiefly upon milk & potatoes, "& the current wage was 4d a day, while the lowest class of workmen in England got 1s." However, he goes on to point out that if they were lazy (as was said) they had little inducement to work, for much of their property had been taken from them & they had few means of employment. "For what need they to work, who can content themselves with potatoes, whereof the labor of one man feed 40, and with milk, whereof one cow will, in summer give meat & drink for 3 men...and why should they breed more cattle, since 'til penal to import them into England?...How should merchants have stock since trade is prohibited?"

- Constantia Maxwell, The Stranger in Ireland, p. 85 (Mil. Lib.)



Le Chevalier de la Tocnaye (a French émigré who wrote travel books to make money), 1796-97

He remarked on the prevalence of wretched beggars. He saw wretched hedge-schools in the open air, full of ragged scholars, and in the extreme west he heard many stories of smuggling & wrecking. "The safe & deep harbors by which this country is intersected, together with the facility of landing without being annoyed by revenue-officers, have induced many to settle on the coasts for the smuggling business as it is publicly called."

He heard many tales relating to the outrages of the Whiteboys & although he disapproved he was not surprised, for in matters of tithes & rents he thought the people badly treated.

He was struck by the huge crowds in the churches & by the number that went on pilgrimages to Croagh, Patrick, & Lough Derg, & by the influence & power of the priests.

- Constantia Maxwell, Stranger in Ireland, p. 196-97 (Mil. Lib.)


Arthur Young (an agricultural expert), 1776-79

"A landlord in Ireland can scarcely invent an order which a servant, laborer, or cotter dares to refuse to execute. Nothing satisfies him but unlimited submission. Disrespect, or anything tending toward sauciness, he may punish with his cane or horsewhip with the most perfect security; a poor man would have his bones broken if he offered to lift a hand in his own defense."

- Constantia Maxwell, The Stranger in Ireland, p. 168 (Mil. Lib.)

"The greatest part of the kingdom exhibits a naked, bleak, dreary view for want of trees." Many trees were destroyed in the Elizabethan wars because they afforded shelter to the rebels. The 17 th cent. settlers cut down a great deal of timber for iron works & building material & exported large quantities for gain. Absentee landlords, looking for quick profits had also cut down many trees, & so had the peasantry, who were afraid that the growth of timber might raise the value of their holdings. (Ibid., p. 323)


Of the peasantry, he notes their vivacity & love of society & their taste for music & dancing. "they are infinitely more cheerful & lively than anything we commonly see in England, having nothing of that incivility, of sullen silence, with which so many Englishmen seem to wrap themselves up." Yet he noticed that they were hard drinkers, and quarrelsome, lazy on the whole, & secret & vengeful enemies. The Whiteboy movement was in full swing, a revolt against the tithes that were to be paid to the Protestant clergy & the extortions of middlemen who collected rents for the landlords. Young had no sympathy with the outrages of the Whiteboy, but of the tithe proctors he says, "They are a bad set of people," for they screwed up the cotter to the utmost shilling; while the middleman he describes as "the most oppressive species of tyrant that ever lent assistance to the destruction of a country." He was also critical of the Penal Laws, & of the commercial restrictions. Of the Catholics he says, "They are under such discouragements they cannot engage in any trade. If they succeed & make a fortune what are they to do with it? They cannot buy land, take a mortgage, or even sign down the rent of a lease."

- Ibid., p. 171



[William Makepeace] Thackeray

The country in the [18]40s was not a pleasant spectacle, and much of what he saw was a dress-rehearsal for the Famine. He was horribly depressed, especially at first, by the general poverty. Everywhere there were beggars who swarmed in the towns, or who followed his car, the men lying in front of their cabins with no work or little food, the women pulling weeds or nettles in the hedges, the people in some places crowding around the meal shops where meal was being distributed by the neighboring gentry, for there was no work, bread, or potatoes. ...Like so many other visitors, he was particularly struck by the pious devotion of the peasantry, in the pleasure they took in their religious services. ...Thackeray saw & heard as an outsider, for he had no real sympathy for Catholicism.

- Constantia Maxwell, The Stranger in Ireland, 1954, p. 308-09 (Mil. Lib.)