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Travels in County Clare 1534 - 1911
(extracts from The Strangers Gaze, edited by Brían Ó Dálaigh)

Jonathan Binns, Miseries and Beauties of Clare, 1835

Binns from Lancashire, England took a special interest in agricultural affairs. The opening up of the British grain market to external competition prompted him in 1839 to publish a pamphlet Cornlaws Superseded by Improved Agriculture. Previously, in 1833, Binns had been one of the assistant agricultural commissioners appointed by government to inquire into the condition of the poor in Ireland. The Poor Law commissioners visited seventeen counties, including Clare, and collected evidence in one parish of each barony of these counties. Their report, published in 1835, was the most comprehensive inquiry into Irish poverty in the pre-Famine period. Binns appears to have combined his work for the commission with his travel writing. In his introduction he states that his office as assistant commissioner ‘afforded advantages and opportunities for the acquisition of information respecting the general condition of the people’. His chief motive in writing was to promote, on the part of the inhabitants of England, a better understanding of the ‘real situation and dispositions of the Irish people, and to promote a more practical sympathy for their suffering’. Binns’ two volumed work on Ireland was his only travelogue. In England agricultural matters continued to preoccupy him and in 1851 he published a book on his native shire called Notes on the Agriculture of Lancashire with Suggestions for its Improvement. Binns journeyed in Clare on at least two occasions; starting at Kilrush in 1835 he toured the towns and villages of west Clare and the following year passed through Lough Derg and Killaloe on his way to Limerick. Binns was among the first to comment on the incipient tourist industry; a well informed observer, he was primarily concerned with agricultural practice, social conditions and economic development.

The lighthouses of Kilkredane and Rehy Head, elevated upon lofty cliffs, are seen on the Clare side of
Crofton Moore Vandeleur
Crofton Moore Vandeleur in 1832
the river. Here part of the French fleet anchored. At Money Point, on the Clare side of the river, some excellent flag-quarries are extensively worked by the Dublin Steam Company, which owes its prosperity in a great measure to the spirited exertions of Mr Williams of Liverpool. Flags are sent from hence to London and other places. Proceeding on our way, we sailed close by the island of Innis Scattery, which contains the ruins of seven churches, and a conspicuous round tower, useful as a land-mark. From the hotel of Kilrush, there is an excellent view of the tower, the diameter of which is the same throughout, and the height 120 feet. It retains its conical top, and has a rent, supposed to be caused by lightning, extending the whole length. The island of Innis Scattery contains 98 acres; a hundred years ago it contained 100 acres, but two have been washed away during the interval. The rental is £100 per annum. . . .

Kilrush belongs to Crofton Moore Vandeleur, Esq., of Kilrush House, who is lord of the manor. His property extends about twelve miles along the Shannon side, east of Kilrush, and, westward on the road to Kilkee, about five miles; and his income is said to be about £15,500 per annum. He is a young man, and is an excellent landlord, giving encouragement by granting longer leases, and ground for building on, and is ready to join any company that may be established for the benefit of the country. Within the last five years, the town and neighbourhood have undergone an astonishing improvement, mainly attributable to the establishment of the steam navigation. The trade of the place is rapidly increasing; several stores are building; branches of the National and Agricultural Banks have been established; a patent slip has been constructed; and the Steam Company are about to extend the pier 200 feet. These are unequivocal signs of increased prosperity. Nor are advantages resulting from these changes confined to the town. The agricultural interest is benefited to a very considerable extent, by the opening of the trade of Kilrush: the farmers, for instance, who formerly were obliged to take 2d. or 3d. a stone less than the Limerick prices, now sell their grain within a farthing of those
prices. . . .

It was highly gratifying to witness the animation that prevailed in Kilrush, - the neatness of the little shops, the flagged pathway, and the absence of accumulated dirt, so prominent and offensive a peculiarity of most small towns in Ireland. The people about Kilrush (whose population is 5000) are handsome, and appear considerably more intelligent than in many other places. The whole town, indeed, presented abundant proofs of the advantages that result from a spirited and enlightened policy. . .

Kilkee, a well-frequented bathing-place, is nine miles distant from Kilrush; the charge made by the public company for going there is only 1s.; whilst those having private cars charge five. The company, besides what it has done in the direct sphere of its operations, has also assisted in making and improving the roads in the neighbourhood.

In going to Kilkee, some bogs are crossed, which contain an extraordinary quantity of wood - the stumps of large trees remaining above ground, as numerous and as close together, and most of them in the same position as in the days when they were portions of an extensive forest. They nearly all belong to the pine species, and the wood is so thoroughly impregnated with turpentine, that the shreds burn most brilliantly, and are substituted for candles. They are occasionally twisted into ropes. This wood makes an excessively hot fire, and kindles in a much shorter time than any other combustible in use; the roots are chiefly applied to this purpose - the stem, which is too valuable, being used for building. . . Turf, to the value of £10,000 annually is said to be sent to Limerick from the neighbouring bogs. . . .

Kilkee is the property of Lord Cunningham, an absentee: his income in Clare is said to be about £7,000 a year; the property is still in lease for lives. Very many of the people here live to the age of eighty and ninety.

The curraghs, or canoes, of the fishermen on this coast, are of the same description as those used by the ancient Britons and Irish, except that they are covered (probably for the sake of economy) with tarred canvass instead of hides; such being the alterations that have taken place in the relative value of these two articles. The curraghs consist of wands of willow or hazel, and are so light that a man can easily carry his canoe on his back. I saw several of them laid up for the winter at the cabins of the owners. The cost price, when ready for sea, is from twenty to thirty shillings. They are sharp in front, and, behind, square but narrow; they have neither keel nor rudder, being guided very dextrously with paddles. When damaged, they are easily repaired with a piece of canvass, stuck on with pitch. The fishery of Kilkee is unfortunately declining, the fish having nearly deserted the shores; and the poverty of the fishermen deters them from trying new banks, for fear of losing their tackle. . . .

The farms in this neighbourhood are from six to twenty acres in size; the rent being from twenty to thirty shillings per acre. For the bog, when part of the turf has been got off, and about ten feet in depth remains, the rent is from fifteen to twenty shillings per acre. For conacre, from fourteen to eighteen shillings per rood is paid; but this is for stubble land, not very good, and the farmer manures it. The rent paid by the farmer for the same land, is £1 per acre. Many of the farmers are now sowing clover, and I was told that in two or three years there will be scarcely a farmer who will not sow a little. No turnips, rape, or other green food, is cultivated. . . .

During the time of potato digging, the labourers receive 6d. per day and diet, after which there is very little to be done till spring, when they may be employed till July. Early in spring they get 6d.; about May, 8d.; and then 6d. per day again. On an average, they are employed about two-thirds of their time. Some of their wives and children go to beg where they are not known, but generally the people are so industriously disposed, and pay such attention to their little potato-gardens, that not many resort to this degrading practice. . . .

Kilkee presents no variation from the rest of places, in respect of early marriages. Girls marry at sixteen, boys from seventeen to twenty. The poorer classes marry under a conviction that their condition cannot be worse, and may possibly be more comfortable. The farmers’ daughters necessarily associate with the servants; and the father, afraid of their marrying below their class, is more easily induced than he might be under other circumstances, to allow them to marry, when a tolerable offer is made, although very young.

I would advise all who intent travelling in this part of Ireland in the winter, to go well provided with tea, coffee, and any liquor they may consider necessary. The eggs obtained here are not always the best; tea and coffee are both very poor; good ham or bacon is difficult to find, though in a country overrun with pigs; the fowls are more skin and bone than flesh; mutton may by chance be got pretty good; but the beef is scarcely fit to eat. I lodged at the house of a Mrs Shannon, who treated me with the utmost kindness and civility; and had I taken up my abode there at a time when visitors generally come, I doubt not many of the deficiencies I complain of, would have been supplied.

From Kilkee to Miltown Malbay, a distance of only sixteen miles, I travelled in a very jolting car (for which I paid 8s.) drawn by a horse which was either unable or unwilling to travel at an ordinary rate. Three men in succession undertook to drive him, and so far succeeded as to make him perform the journey in five hours - being at the astonishing rate of three miles an hour. At length we reached the immense inn at Miltown Malbay, which did not contain a traveller besides myself. It presented a comfortless appearance, and in many respects resembled the generality of Irish inns in the winter season: it was, however, comparatively free from the prevailing characteristic of dirt. The rooms were without fires, and the only newspaper they could bring me to read was one of the month of August, the time, I suppose, when visitors began to be scarce. This spacious hotel is a partnership concern, having been built about thirty years ago by four gentlemen, and, including ninety beds, cold and warm baths, and stabling for eighty horses, cost about £7,000. It is built upon a rock, immediately beneath which are the waters of a delightfully sheltered bay, resembling a lake, and occasionally, when the wind blows strong, the spray from the waves dashes against the windows of the house. The water being strong and pure, is well adapted to the purposes of sea-bathing; the sands, moreover, are firm and smooth. The present occupier of the inn pays a rent of £150 per annum; he has five acres of land, and two of bog. Nearly the whole of Miltown Malbay belongs to Mr Marawley [recte Moroney] . . . .

The principal proprietors in the neighbourhood, are Mr Marawley, before mentioned, whose income was stated to be about £2,000 per annum, Mr O’Brien, £1,000 per annum, and Sir William Fitzgerald, from five to £6,000. This gentleman resides in France, and has also a seat near Newmarket; he comes over to Ireland occasionally, and is reported to be a good landlord.

The population of Miltown is rapidly increasing. The wages of the labourers are generally 6d., and sometimes 8d. and 10d. per day, with diet. They are occasionally much distressed, being employed only half of their time; their wives are accordingly compelled to turn out and beg, but notwithstanding this, the most complete tranquillity prevails. Land near Miltown lets at from £2 to £3 10s. per acre; bog land, from £2 to £2 10s. Sea-weed and sea-sand are much used for manure, and the latter is held in such high estimation as to be carted from the shore at Miltown to near Ennis, a distance of eighteen miles. But little encouragement, I am sorry to say, appears to be given to agricultural improvements. The morning after my arrival here was exceedingly brilliant, and I anticipated with pleasure a visit to the cliffs of Moher. . . .

A new road from Lahinch to Liscanor was interrupted by a gulf, that had, in consequence of some dispute with the contractor, been cut across it, ands we had accordingly to scramble down a deep decent, covered with large stones, rounded by being rolled by the action of the sea, which is here very powerful. On crossing the beach and the Innistimon River, it was with great exertion we narrowly escaped being swamped in a quick-sand. Between this place and the celebrated cliffs, we passed Birchfield, the residence of Mr O’Brien, whose hospitality to strangers is distinguished; but I had not time to obtrude myself upon his kindness. He is a good landlord; indeed, the great number of white-washed and comfortable-looking cottages that are scattered over his estate, sufficiently indicate the care and attention of the owner, and have been the frequent objects of warm and just admiration. To each cottage is allotted a small portion of land, on which turnips and other green crops are grown. Mr O’Brien, according to the expression of my informant, ‘gives the poor a power of employment.’ For the purpose of benefiting the poor, as well as for the accommodation of visitors, he built a tower or castle on the cliffs of Moher, to which stables are attached, and all the necessary requisites for the process of cooking supplied. He encourages his tenants in the cultivation of the land, allowing them a car to bring lime from Doolan; and in scarce times he supplies the poor with wool and potatoes, and judiciously takes the price out in work. Mr O’Brien’s steward said that as a good deal of work was generally going on, an active man need not be out of employment except on wet days. Two gentlemen of the name of Macnamara occupy a portion of their time in teaching the people to grow turnips and mangel wurzel, and pay them for erecting their own cabins, on condition that they shall whitewash them every year, and keep them clean inside. They also give employment to the women and children.

The low land lets for from thirty to forty shillings; the mountainous part, from thirteen to twenty. The cess is 1s. 5d. per acre. In this barony (Corcomroe) the proportion of Catholics to Protestants is said to be one hundred to one.

From Liscanor the road winds up the hill to the Hag’s Head, a rock, so called from the striking resemblance of a part of it to the head of an old woman. Here stands an old tower, formerly used as a telegraph, and afterwards as a coastguard station. This cliff was stated by the late Alexander Nimmo, in his report to Government, to be more than 600 feet above the ocean. The celebrated cliffs of Moher extend for three miles to the northward of the Hag’s Head - the most remarkable of which is computed to be 900 feet perpendicular. The fearful and sublime effect produced by gazing from the edge of these perpendicular and rugged rocks (the highest in Europe, or perhaps in the world), baffles description. The waves of the sea that rolled below, actually appeared like the diminutive curl upon a pond, when slightly agitated by the wind; and something on the shore, that looked from this dizzy height like rods that a man might grasp and wield in his hand, I was told were large balks of timber. A little southward of the Hag’s Head, is a narrow rocky chasm, 500 feet deep, which runs up into the land; within this chasm flows a dark stream. To lie down on these airy heights, and project the head beyond the edge of the precipice, is an act, simple though it may seem, that requires no little resolution. The watery depth below is an awful gulf to gaze into. Fortunately, my visit to these extraordinary cliffs was attended with a transparent atmosphere, and a great extent of rocky coast was visible - its bold headlands jutting into the sea as far as the eye could reach. . . .

Leaving with reluctance the stupendous heights of Moher, which I had been most anxious to see, I returned to Lahinch. The inn is situated at the head of Ballyela Bay, and is much frequented in the summer months by bathers, the sands being remarkably fine. The majority of the company, I was informed, consists of Catholic priests. I was shown into an immense room, a fire of wet turf being carried along with me; and the keen frosty air having produced as keen an appetite, I called for dinner, and was told that a fowl would presently be served up. The promise was literally fulfilled most certainly, for, by and by, a goose, as white as when it was uncooked, was brought to table. The ‘fowl’ was baked.

Leaving Lahinch by the mail-car at seven in the morning, we passed for many miles through a poor, cold, and barren country, destitute of all objects of interest, except now and then the ruins of an ancient castle. Limestone, composed of masses of oyster shells, prevails, as Ennis, the county town of Clare, is approached; and in the immediate neighbourhood of that town the soil improves considerably. At the inn here I happened to breakfast at the same table with Thomas Steele, one of Mr O’Connell’s friends, and an able writer on the liberal side. ‘Nothing,’ said he, in reference to tithe, ‘nothing will now satisfy the Irish people but its total extinction, stem, root, and branch.’ Poor-laws he considered indispensable.

Mr Steele introduced me to the news-room, where I became acquainted with a gentlemen, a magistrate, who, in the true spirit of Irish civility, kindly accompanied me to inspect the jail, the mendicity institution, the old abbey, and some other objects of interest in the town. Mr Baggot, I found, was an advocate of the silent system, which was about to be adopted in this prison. The arrangements in this jail, with one exception, were very good. That one exception refers to the non-classification of the boys - a point of the greatest importance. This defect will be remedied, I doubt not, when more room is obtained, for the adult prisoners are already classed, according to the character and quality of the crimes of which they are either suspected or convicted. The mendicity institution was also well managed; four hundred persons are fed by it. . .

Ennis is a much cleaner and neater town than I had lately been accustomed to see, and has a population of about 12,000. On the river Fergus, close to the town, are several fine corn-mills.

To Limerick, twenty-two miles. I travelled by the coach, and thence to Dublin, 125 miles, by the mail.

Extracts taken from Jonathan Binns, The Miseries and Beauties of Ireland, 2 vols (London 1837), ii, pp 376-408.

Assizes, 1834
Henry Inglis


Rambles, 1838
Lady Chatterton