The Strangers Gaze:
Travels in County Clare: 1534-1950
Edited by Brian O Dalaigh
CLASP Press, 1998, Hardback, Price: €27.00,
8 colour plates, illus., ISBN: 1 900545 08 X.
Paperback: 2004, Price €21.00, ISBN: 1900545 18 7
The Strangers Gaze was sponsored by Clare
County Council in celebration of the centenary of local government in
This anthology brings together over four
centuries of superb accounts of County Clare by visitors from Ireland,
Britain, the Continent, Australia and America. These visitors include
such notables as Arthur Young, William Thackery and Thomas Carlyle. While
their accounts enlighten and entertain, they also provide fascinating
insights into the social, religious, and cultural traditions of County
Clare. By studying the procession of travellers through the county over
the centuries, the histories of urban and rural communities are revealed
in a fresh and interesting light. Visitors brought their own particular
prejudices with them which influenced their view of the countryside and
the people they encountered. Their descriptions often reveal as much about
themselves as they do about the people they observed. This interaction
between native and stranger results in a book of complexity and extraordinary
human interest. Whether written in Irish, Latin, French or English, these
travellers’ accounts display an exceptional richness and diversity.
In almost seventy descriptions of County Clare, the historical landscape
is thoroughly explored. Historical landmarks such as the Cromwellian conquest,
the Great Famine and the Land War are described by individuals who either
participated in or witnessed these great events. Soldiers of fortune,
mapmakers, shipwrecked clergymen, itinerant judges, social reformers,
newspaper reporters, all inhabit these pages. They present a view of Clare
that is compelling and unique. Richly illustrated with contemporary pictures
and line drawings, The Strangers Gaze evokes the atmosphere and character
of the county’s past. The book is richly illustrated, with many
rare views of the county.
After two days of march, without anything
but bad quarters, we entered into the barony of Burren, of which it is
said, that it is a country where there is not water enough to drown a
man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him; which last
is so scarce, that the inhabitants steal it from one another, and yet
their cattle are fat; for the grass growing in turfs of earth, of two
or three foot square, that lie between the rocks, which are of limestone,
is very sweet and nourishing.
Edmund Ludlow, 1651.
I went to Mass at Kilrush, but found the chapel so crowded as not to be
able to proceed farther than the door. The court was also full of people;
some of whom were brought, on account of their age or infirmities, in
little dog-carts and wheel-barrows, counting and conning their bead-strings.
William Reid, 1810
We now decided to take a look at Ennis itself. A white flag flying from
the Old Ground Hotel told us that a funeral was in progress, and we were
just in time to see a procession from the doorway of Denny Healy’s
bar. On this occasion it was a particularly good funeral because the dead
man was a publican. Two priests and a Franciscan friar led the way, followed
by four carriages drawn by dark brown cobs, with the chief mourners in
silk hats. Then came about two hundred people walking in column of fours.
It looked as though it had been a very wet ‘wake’ the night
Charles Graves, 1948.
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