|Clare County Library||
in County Clare 1534 - 1911
Rev James Hall, Tour of East Clare, 1812.
James Hall of Walthamstow, Essex, was a native of Clackmannan, Scotland. Educated at the University of St Andrews, he came to Ireland in 1812 for the purpose of exploring the interior and least-known parts of the country. Little, unfortunately, is known about him. He had previous experience of travel writing because in 1807 he published a work entitled Travels in Scotland by an Unusual Route, with a Trip to the Orkneys and Hebrides. Hall served as chaplain to the Earl of Caithness which explains his special interest in northern Scotland. In 1812 he made a comprehensive tour of Ireland visiting practically every county in the country. He was preoccupied with economic improvement and comments at length on social customs and living conditions. He observed Ireland at its best, enjoying the boom years of the Napoleonic wars before the economic collapse of 1815. Hall was among the first to discuss the practical advantages of telegraphic communications between Ireland and England. Being a committed unionist he was convinced of the benefits that would accrue to Ireland from the Union with Britain. In keeping with his political viewpoint, he published in 1814 a pamphlet entitled The Blessings of Liberty and Peace: or the Excellence of the British Constitution.
When I left Limerick, and was proceeding through the county of Clare, to Killaloe, my next resting-place, I found a countryman sitting by the way-side, counting his rosary. After he had gone round it three times, and said some Pater-Nosters and Ave-Marias, he told me that he had counted it fifteen times every day, for many years; and trusted in God, that nothing would ever happen which would prevent him from performing a duty so important. As the man could not read, and the beads in his rosary, by being of a more than ordinary size, called up to his mind certain of the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, I advised him to be careful in imitating the piety and virtue of these; if he wished to be happy either here or hereafter. On giving him this advice he said he would think of it, but must consult the priest, who had, as he termed it, his soul in keeping.
At Donoss, between O’Brien’s bridge and Limerick, the Rev Mr Massy, the rector, has tithes to the amount of seven hundred pounds a-year; while the salary of the schoolmaster is only two pounds. Some parishes in the interior, as well as the south of Ireland, have neither school nor schoolmaster. Where parishes have a schoolmaster, they have often neither house nor garden. This circumstance, and the little encouragement otherwise given to school-masters, naturally damps their ardour, compels them to betake themselves to other pursuits, and bestow little trouble on the improvement of their scholars. Proceeding up the banks of the Shannon, I arrived at Killaloe which the Hon. Robt. Tottenham, brother to Lord Loftus, is bishop. The cathedral is small, without any organ, and there is generally no person either to instruct the clergy, or the people, except the Rev Mr Allan, who is the bishop’s curate, and who keeps a school. It is no uncommon thing in Ireland to see cathedral churches without an organ. In the Archbishop of Cashel’s church, it seems, there is none. The bishop here, however, who has a noble palace in the midst of a park, containing above two hundred acres of excellent land, is extremely humane. When a blind man came to him, soon after he was made bishop, to ask something, the bishop gave him a guinea, desiring him to come every month, and he would get the half of that sum. When the bishop heard that a poor man had lost his cow, he sent him seven guineas to buy another; that being the value of the one that died: and, having learned that many of the poor had not a sufficient number of blankets to cover them in cold weather, he sent and bought a hundred to be distributed among them.
The late bishop erected a school of industry for poor children here; and, among other things, paid a school-master to teach the Roman Catholics their own catechism. The present bishop continues the salary.
There belong to the bishopric a dean, archdeacon, vicar-general, chancellor, and many others, who all receive considerable revenues from it; but who are scarcely ever seen here, except when they come to receive the money. One item of the bishop’s income is the tenth of the eels caught in the river, at Killaloe.
Dr Parker, rector of Castleton, who lives on the banks of the Shannon, has a beautiful house and farm on a long lease, and a right, at the end of it, for any improvements whatever that may be made. The doctor, who gives employment to many, in draining, planting, inclosing, levelling, building, and the like, will (which is said to be his object) be able to give in an account, at the end of the lease, equivalent, if not greater than the whole value of the farm.
While standing, not far from Killaloe, observing a stout young fellow driving out manure in baskets on a horse, and a young woman stooping and spreading it with her hands, Major P--- came up, with his lady and parasol, in a gig; and, with much complaisance, entered into conversation with me. But, when I hinted, among other improvements in each county, the propriety of raising a subscription to buy something with prongs for spreading the manure, and preventing women from the humiliating employment of doing it with their hands, and said I was certain that every feeling person would be glad to give less or more, the Major, who has extensive estates in this corner, sneaked off, without saying a word.
A few miles from Killaloe, on my way to Woodford, I found high words, which ended in blows, between three men with some pigs and cows, on the one side, and two men on the other. The three men were the tithe-proctor and his assistants, who were carrying cows, calves, pigs, and the like, to the pound-park of the parish; and the two other were the sons of tenants in the vicinity, who would not permit the tithe-proctor to carry off the cow of a widow in their neighbourhood, who had got a few shillings in arrear to the parson.
In every parish there is a pound-park, to which they take the cows, pigs, calves, and the like, of those who are in arrear for tithes. In eight days after the cattle have been in pound, if the owner do not come and relieve them, by paying the tithe and other expenses, the cow, or whatever it may be, is sold to the highest bidder; and the balance, if any, after paying what had been due, and all expenses, is given to the person to whom the animal, or thing, belonged. There is generally also a pound-park in the parish for the landholders; and middle-men, or receivers, do the same when there happens to be any arrear of rent. One of the young men, opposing the tithe-proctor, had his head tied up, which had been bruised in defending the widow’s cow. The young man argued that the widow, though industrious, was poor; that she had a number of children to support; that she had no money, and only that cow to give them milk; and that the rector, who has many hundred pounds a-year for doing nothing, was more able to want the few shillings than the widow was to pay them. While I was speaking to the tithe-proctor in behalf of the poor widow, the young man went off with the cow; nobody preventing him. . . .
For about twenty miles above Killaloe, the Shannon forms itself into a lake, in some places from two to three miles broad. The ground rising gradually from its banks gives a beautiful variety to the country all around.
At Mount Shannon, where was once a linen-factory, the inhabitants are all Presbyterians. The manufactory was, however, some time ago, given up, and the village is going to ruins; he who set it going, being dead, and the property squandered by his son and heir.
About half way between Mount Shannon and Woodford, to which I next directed my course, there being no public-house near, and the evening approaching; at the recommendation of a priest, with whom I fell in, I put up at a farmer’s near the road, who has a numerous family. When the mistress of the house, who was extremely hospitable, showed me where I was to sleep, I found three beds in the room, and, in one of them, two fine young women, her daughters, fast asleep. Having appointed me what she termed her best bed, she went away. The good woman and her husband, however, came soon after, and occupied the one next to that in which I lay. Being good Catholics, and seemingly not bad Christians, before they lay down, each of them muttered some Latin prayers, crossing their forehead, breast, and farther down, several times, both at the beginning and end of each prayer.
In the morning, when I awoke, the good man and his wife were gone, as were also the two young women; but a beautiful girl, another daughter, about seventeen or eighteen, who had been at a wake in the vicinity a part of the night, lay on the bed in which her sisters had been. Having awoke while I was shaving myself, she said, ‘Good morning, Sir’; begged to know whether I wished for a little hot water or anything, and sat up in bed a considerable time, repeatedly enquiring if she could be of any use. And such is the innocence and simplicity among the people in this part of the country, that she felt no shame; nor seemed to think there was either impropriety or danger in being in bed in the same room with a man she had never seen, except a few minutes at supper in the evening.
On enquiring what they did at the wakes? she told me, while she lay a-bed, that some go there with their faces blacked, and men in women’s clothes; that various amusements are introduced, even where they have no whiskey. At one of these amusements, which they call, mending the old coat, she told me that a coat is spread on the floor, and that two persons, a young man and woman, sit down, and pretend to mend it, while the rest are dancing in a ring around them, wheeling sometimes one way, and sometimes another. At length, the young man and woman get up, then kiss, and join in the dance; that another couple sit down and do the same; and so on, till all have mended the old coat.
Though they have no manner of acquaintance, or relationship to the dead person, young people, she told me, sometimes come a dozen miles to a wake. The priest, having given to the dead the extreme-unction, and prayed for the repose of the soul; they think that all will be well with their departed friend, and that grief would be improper. Hunt the slipper, and blind-man’s-buff, are also common amusements. On some occasions, where there is plenty of whiskey, the singing and music stop, and the old women set up a howling for the dead in general; at which, if they please, young women may learn to howl.