The Irish According to Fynes Moryson (I)

What follows is a very unflattering, but historically instructive, description of the Irish people  in the Tudor age by Fynes Moryson, an English world traveller who published his observations on divers countries across Europe.  I will be posting various snippets, which whilst being severely tainted by English hatred, are still interesting in the Irish Gaelic manners and customs they purport to portray.

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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.  But it is strange how contrary they are to themselves, for in apparel, meat, fashions, and customs they are most base and abject, yet are they by nature proud and disdainful of reproach.  In fighting they will run away and turn again to fight, because they think it no shame to run away and to make use of the advantage they have in swift running; yet have they great courage in fighting, and I have seen many of them suffer death with as constant resolution as ever Romans did.  To conclude this point, they know not truly what honour is, but according to their knowledge no men more desire it, affecting extremely to be celebrated by their poets, or rather rhymers, and fearing more than death to have a rhyme made in their disgrace and infamy.  So as these rhymers—pestilent members in that commonwealth—by animating all sorts by their rhymes to licentious living, to lawless and rebellious actions, are so much regarded by them as they grow very rich, the very women, when they are young and new married, or brought to bed, for fear of rhymes giving them the best apparel and ornaments they have.

— The Manners and Customs of Ireland, Fynes Moryson.

Curator: Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organised the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

Personal queries should be directed to me at eccentricbliss dot com.

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