|Clare County Library||
in County Clare 1534 - 1911
John Stevens, A Journal of my Travels, 1690
The English Jacobite John Stevens was collector of the excise in Welshpool at the outbreak of the English Revolution in 1668. Leaving his employment in Wales he followed the Catholic King James II into exile in France. There he joined the Jacobite army that was preparing for embarkation to Ireland. Starting on 11 January 1689, the day he set sail from England, Stevens kept a detailed account of his experiences. His journal is remarkable for the light it sheds on the life of the common soldier and the hardships endured by those who supported the Jacobite cause. Landing at Bantry bay on 5 May 1689, he found the people so poor that money could not be changed and troops had to be billeted in cabins no better than pigsties. Arriving in Dublin on 17 May, Stevens was compelled to sell his rings to buy food. He was quartered in Trinity College for the winter of 1689. Conditions were such that the doors, closets and floors of the chambers were used for firewood. Stevens participated in the Battle of the Boyne, July 1690; his regiment which had been 1000 strong was reduced, mainly through desertion, to 400 men. Retreating to Limerick, he was billeted in the village of Carrigogunnel. Here the people were kind and gave them plenty of meat, barley bread and milk. Because of the loss of tents and baggage at the Boyne, some troops about Limerick slept in the open. Stevens suffered all the deprivations with remarkable forbearance. Unlike James II, he did not blame the Irish for the failure of Jacobite arms; rather he praised the endurance of the soldiers, especially at Limerick where they suffered incredible hardships in defending a hopeless position. The surrender of Limerick brought an end to his hopes, but, as he says, he was proud to have been ‘a voluntary exile for love of his Prince’. His journal ends 1 July 1691. Stevens was not cut out for the soldier’s life and by 1695 he had returned to London where he spent the remainder of his life in writing and translating. Having resided in Spain during his youth, he had an intimate knowledge of Spanish and Portuguese and translated a number of important books into English. Unlike many of his countrymen, Stevens was unburdened by religious or national animosities towards Ireland so that his journal provides an accurate account of Irish conditions as he observed them. The account of his march from Limerick to Athlone, from which this description of Clare is taken, illustrates not just the bleakness of the east Clare countryside but also the primitive state of roads and the absence of urban settlements.
Wednesday, July 23rd, 1690. Athlone having been some days besieged and by Colonel Grace the governor well defended, it was thought fit to send him some relief, the enemy being only on the Leinster side of the river and Connaught side open. Here upon this day one battalion of the guards, the Grand Prior, Slane and Boisseleau’s detachments making another battalion, Gormanstown and Bellew a third, Hamilton and Sir Maurice Eustace a fourth, and the French detachments, two other small battalions, marched out of Limerick and lay this night at Killaloe, the men without tents or quarters in the gardens. The officers were quartered in the town, the great ones taking up the best houses which are not many, the inferior were crowded into very poor cabins that only served barely to cover them from the weather. These eight miles from Limerick is part of the county of Clare and is all very bare, there being in this way scarce any corn or meadow, but only a hilly common in some places boggy, everywhere covered with fern and rushes, which is all it produces. The road is hard and pleasant for the most part open and often crossed by small brooks and springs, near a mile at first is a large causeway over a bog, not unlike to the old Roman ways being raised high because of the floods. A little above the midway is the wood whence we [cut] the palisades, it is not large nor produces any large timber. Killaloe is a bishopric, but as to the town the meanest I ever saw dignified with that character, except St David and St Asaph in Wales, having but very few houses that are anything tolerable, the rest and even those in no very great number are thatched cabins or cottages, in fine it has nothing beyond many villages in England, nor is it equal to some, except the church be reckoned which indeed is large, and so all is said of it, having nothing else beautiful or commendable. The bishop’s house like the rest has nothing worthy [of] observation. The Shannon runs by the town, and in this place is so rocky it is not navigable, so that all goods must be carried from Limerick till above the town by land, and being embarked there the river is again navigable for many miles. The most remarkable thing here was that the Protestant bishop of the place continued then and long after in his diocese under his Majesty’s government.
Thursday, July 24th, 1690. We marched first along the side of the mountain near the Shannon, which about this place makes a very large lough or lake. This way is very close and woody but lasts not long, as soon as out of it the rest is across the barren hills till we came to a small village called Tomgraney, which is five Connaught miles from Killaloe, and the miles here are of an excessive length. We halted a little farther at another village called Scarriff, neither of these places worth the naming but for some iron mills that were there before the war. Close by these two places is a large stone bridge which joins, or rather the river that runs under it parts, the counties of Clare and Galway, the same being also the bounds of the provinces of Munster and Connaught. At Scarriff begins one of the most desert wild barbarous mountains that ever I beheld and runs eight miles outright, there being nothing to be seen upon it but rocks and bogs, no corn, meadow, house or living creature, not so much as a bird. Nothing grows there but a wild sedge, fern, and heath. In wet winters this way is absolutely impassable, in dry summers it is a soft way, but at best in many places very boggy, so that at no time cannon or heavy carriages can pass that way. This day we marched about four miles of the mountain, a violent rain falling most part of the time, which made the way extreme toilsome afoot the long sedge twisting about the feet, and the bog sucking them up, as that which immediately draws in the water being naturally soft and yielding. For our comfort at night we had a bare bog to lie on without tents or huts or so much the shelter of a tree, hedge, or bank. The rain held most part of the night, and scarce any firing to be had the place being furnished but with a few and those small scattered trees, and we tired and without any tools to cut wood. Meat was as scarce as other necessaries, but that we might not be destitute of all, Providence had furnished a small brook which, though foul and ill tasted by reason of the rain and bog, afforded us plenty of drink.
Friday, July 25th, 1690. With the day began our march over the remaining part of this barbarous mountain, just at the end whereof is a wood very thick the trees coarse and misshapen and as the others affords no large timber. It was a great satisfaction to us from the tops of the mountains to discover at a distance ploughed land, pasture and some few scattered cottages. At length having passed what was left of the solitude we came to a small place the English call Woodford and the Irish Graig, where it being St James’s Day we halted and heard mass. . . .
Wednesday, July 30th, 1690. Between twelve and one in the morning the general beat, and again ordered that no man upon pain of death should stir from his post in marching. We marched through a very thick wood and extraordinary rough stony way long before the least light appeared, and the road being so uncouth was exceeding troublesome in the dark. We had many falls and that sometimes in the water, some stony brooks crossing the wood and nobody seeing where they set their feet. When day appeared we were out of the wood and in a better way. Soon after day we halted to gather our scattered men and march again with some lighted matches. Now it appeared very many of our men had left us and among them some who had the reputation of being very brave, many of which upon occasions of danger I have found to be the backwardest of all, and that they gained a name only by being mutinous troublesome fellows, always in private broils, yet durst not look upon the common enemy. Having marched seven miles this morning we made a considerable halt to refresh the men at Quin, a small village, where are some considerable remains of an ancient church and abbey, then possessed by the Franciscan friars. Whilst we halted some men of each regiment were sent with officers to look out for provisions in the neighbourhood to bring to the men, who were commanded to pay for what they had. There was no other neighbourhood to seek anything, but those they call the creaghts, which are much like the Tartar hordes, being a number of people some more some less, men, women and children under a chief or head of the name or family, who range about the country with their flocks or herds and all the goods they have in the world, without any settled habitation, building huts wherever they find pasture for their cattle and removing as they find occasion. This is a custom much used in Ireland, especially in time of war as now, when thousands of all sorts fled from the dominion of the usurper and had no other manner of living but this. But the custom I believe is immemorial and was doubtless in use among them before the conquest by the English. They have small cars and garrons or little horses to carry their necessaries and live most upon the milk of their cows. With what they can spare they buy bread and other necessaries, or in these times of confusion make no scruple of taking where they find it. Particularly in gathering cattle they are industrious, for many who came from their habitations in Ulster with only one or two cows by the time they came to the neighbourhood of Limerick were increased some to fifty, some a hundred, and some more head of black cattle. They examine not whose ground they encamp in, and when they march drive all the cattle that comes in their way, and in some places I have heard them complained of as more grievous and burdensome to the country than the army, which seemed to me improbable and almost impossible, but that the country people affirmed the robberies and insolences of the soldiers were much inferior to the extravagant barbarities of those people. In short if they came first they left nothing for the army, and where they came after they carried away whatever the army had left. . . The design was to have marched through this day to Limerick, which was twelve miles from this place, a great march, though the county of Clare miles be not altogether so long as those of Connaught. But being informed there was no danger of the enemy we only marched half-way to Sixmilebridge, which is an indifferent good town and takes its name from its distance from Limerick and a small bridge over a little river that runs through it, and thence into the Shannon, yet we were quartered three or four companies in a house.
Taken from John Stevens, A Journal of my Travels
since the Revolution containing a brief account of all the War in Ireland
(ed.) Rev R. H. Murray (Oxford 1912), pp 151-4, 160-3.
Survey of the Thomond Estate, 1703