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

George Whitefield, Stormtossed on the Clare Coast, 1738

Rev George Whitefield, Methodist Evangelist, was a leader of the religious revival that took place on both sides of the Atlantic in the mid eighteenth century. He was educated at Oxford university where he came in contact with Charles and John Wesley, the founders of Methodism. Whitefield was renowned for his preaching, his captivating voice could be heard over immense distances and it is estimated that he preached up to 18,000 sermons during his lifetime. He made seven voyages to America where he established a special mission to Georgia. Returning from his first voyage in 1738, his ship suffered severe storm damage and after a sea journey of two months eventually made landfall on the coast of west Clare. Being imbued with intense religious fervour, Whitefield attributed his deliverance to divine intervention. He was hospitably received by a Mr McMahon in the Carrigaholt area before passing on through Ballynacally to Limerick. In Limerick he was entertained by the bishop, William Burscough, and preached to a large congregation in St Mary’s Cathedral. Like most eighteenth century travellers in Ireland Whitefield was astounded at the depth of poverty of the common people. His journals were originally published 1738-41 to raise money for his missionary activities in America.

Sunday, Nov. 12, [1738]. This morning, the doctor of our ship took up the Common Prayer Book, and observed that he opened upon these words, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He hath visited and redeemed His people.’ And so, indeed, He has, for about 8 o’clock this morning news was brought that our men saw land, and I went and was a joyful spectator of it myself. The air was clear, and the sun arising in full strength, so that it is the most pleasant day I have seen these many weeks. Now know I that the Lord will not always be chiding, neither keepeth He His anger for ever. For these two or three days last past, I have enjoyed uncommon serenity of soul, and given up my will to God. And now He hath brought us deliverance - from whence I infer, that a calmness of mind, and entire resignation to the divine will, is the best preparative for receiving divine mercies. . . .

Tuesday, Nov. 14, [1738]. Let this day, my soul, be noted in thy book, for God has visited thee with His salvation. On Monday midnight, as I was lying on my bed, my sleep departed from me, and I had no rest in my spirit, because although the weather was so exceeding calm, and we in so great distress, yet no boat was sent to fetch us provisions. Upon this, I spoke to the captain, and he to the mate, who, in the morning went with a boat, and about noon this day returned loaded with provisions and water, and not only so, but told us, he was kindly entreated by the people he met with, especially by a great country gentleman, who came from his seat at midnight, on purpose to relieve him and his companions; furnished them with a fresh boat and other necessaries, most kindly invited me, though unknown, to his house, to stay as long as I please, and has ordered horses to wait ready to take me thither. . . .

A little before our provision came, I had been noting in my diary, that I believed deliverance was at hand; for last night and this morning, I had the most violent conflict within myself that I have had at all. Thus God always prepares me for His mercies. Still greater mercies God confers on His unworthy servant. For after our provisions were brought aboard, the wind still continued fair, and by six at night blew us to a little place on Carrigaholt Island, before which we cast anchor. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me praise His holy Name. . . .

Just as we had cast anchor, a violent wind arose, which (had it happened sooner) must have greatly hurt us. Marvellous are Thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well. About seven at night I dressed myself and went on shore, and was received in a strong castle belonging to Mr MacMahon, the gentleman who sent me an invitation. He himself was not at home, having gone some miles to meet me; but his maidservant kindly received us. I asked for water, and she gave me milk, and brought forth butter in a lordly dish, and never did I eat a more comfortable meal. About ten, the gentleman (having missed me at the place appointed) came through the rain, and entertained us most hospitably, and about one we went to bed - I hope with hearts full of a sense of the Divine Love. My song shall henceforward be always of the loving-kindness of the Lord. I will make mention of His Righteousness and Truth, in the assemblies of His saints. Now our water is turned into wine.

Kilrush in Ireland
This morning about 11 o’clock, after being most hospitably entertained by Mr MacMahon, and furnished with three horses, I and my servant and my new convert set out for Dublin and reached Kilrush, a little town, eight Irish miles from Carrigaholt, about two in the afternoon, where we were refreshed and tarried the remainder of the day with Captain Coc, who last night, with his whole crew was like to be shipwrecked; but this morning by the good Providence of God, was brought hither on shore. Surely my shipmates will, of all men be most miserable if they continue impenitent, having such loud and repeated calls from God.

As I rode along, and observed the meanness of the poor people’s living in these parts, I said, if my parishioners at Georgia complain to me of hardships, I must tell them how the Irish live; for their habitations are far more despicable, and their living as hard, I believe, as to food; and yet, no doubt, content dwells in many of these low huts.

At my first coming into our inn, we kneeled down and prayed, and again at night sang psalms, and prayed with the captain and several of my shipmates - the first time, I believe, the room was ever put to such a use by a ship’s crew and their chaplain.

Friday, Nov. 17, [1738]. Had a very pleasant ride, over a fine fruitful open country to Fourthfargus [Ballynacally], a village that was reckoned only ten, but at a moderate computation, thirty English miles from Kilrush. But this is not the first piece of Irish I have met with - their innocent blunders often extort smiles from one.

As I stopped to have my horses shoed I went into one of the poor people’s cabins, as they call them; but it may as well be called a sty, a barn, or a poultry-coop. It was about twenty feet long, and twelve broad, the walls built with turf and mud. In it was a man threshing corn, two swine feeding, two dogs, several geese; a man, his wife, three children, and a great fire. Georgia huts are a palace to it. Indeed, the people live very poorly in this part, some walk barefoot with their shoes in their hands to save them from wearing out, others out of necessity. I observed many of their feet to be much swollen, and ready to gush out with blood, through extremity of cold.

Whilst I was in the cabin, as they call their little Irish huts, I talked with the woman in the house, and found she was a Roman Catholic; and, indeed, the whole commonalty almost, are of the Romish profession, and seem to be so very ignorant, that they may well be termed the wild Irish. No wonder, when the key of knowledge is taken from them. Woe unto their blind guides. I can think of no likelier means to convert them from their erroneous principles, than to get the Bible translated into their own native language, to have it put in their houses, and charity schools erected for their children, as Mr Jones has done in Wales, which would insensibly weaken the Romish interest; for when once they could be convinced they were imposed upon, they would no longer suffer themselves to be misled. Oh that some man, in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God, would undertake this!

Taken from George Whitefield’s Journals, (ed.) W. Wale (London 1905), pp 173-6.

Survey of the Thomond Estate, 1703
Thomas Moland


Visits to County Clare, 1756-73
Rev John Wesley