THE county of Clare, which is the subject of this work, seems to be distinguished, by one peculiar circumstance, from those parts of Ireland, that have hitherto fallen under my observation. That circumstance is, that it contains such an intermixture of soils, from the deep corcass to the light gravelly substance, as to include a regular gradation of soils, fitted to produce all the necessaries, and even the luxuries, for the various purposes of civilized life.
There appears to be in this margin, I may call it, of the Atlantic ocean, every species of ground rising in a regular chain of productive fertility from the craggs of Burrin to the fattening pastures of Tradree. A traveller, who takes pleasure in contemplating on the wonderful diversity of forms, in which nature delights to indulge, cannot but be struck with the astonishing contrast between the cliff, that frowns over the vale of Glanaragud, where the goat (the chamois of these Irish alps,); can hardly find a scanty blade of grass to browze on, and the banks of the Shannon, the richness of whose quality is such as can scarcely be eaten down by the most numerous herds or oxen, or exhausted by the successive tillage of many years.
Although to treat of the manners, customs, or general religion of this county, not being given to me in commission, does not therefore regularly form any part of this work, yet I trust I shall not be censured, if I impart my sentiments on them, as far as my transitory residence in this county enables me to do. Should I not be as comprehensive on these topics, as their importance demands, the candour of the reader will consider, that a mere bird of passage can only pick up a few superficial grains of knowledge; but to be particular or accurate can be the result alone of permanent residence, and of that variety of communications, which, I regret to have to say, were withheld from me by many of the clergy, who possessed the necessary means.
The manners of the inhabitants from the lowest to the highest class are marked by a civility (the few exceptions, that I unfortunately met with, do not alter my opinion) and readiness to oblige. There is not any considerable disparity of condition; the general run of those, who occupy the rank of gentry, appear to be at no great distance from each other in point of fortune, as a number of the great land proprietors are absentees, spending in Dublin and London the produce of their large rentals, which, if laid out in the county they belong to, would give comfortable bread to the unemployed tradesmen and happiness not felt before.
Hospitality, for which this county, as I am informed, was always remarkable, still hails the coming guest, but on a more rational and improved principle than formerly, as deep and excessive drinking is exploded from all genteel tables; on the other hand thay have not learned from their neighbours to put the cork in the bottle, when they think their guests have had enough.
The materials for exercising this social virtue are to be found no where in greater abundance or perfection, or on cheaper terms. The western ocean, that flows within fourteen miles of Ennis, the county town, supplies every sort of sea-fish, that is known or desired either as a necessary or a luxury in Great Britain; every kind of shell-fish is also to be had in great plenty and perfection, including the Pouldoody oysters, that for flavour are universally allowed to be superior to any in the world. Salmon, pike, trout, and eels are obtained in great perfection and profusion from the Shannon and several other rivers in this county, and from the numerous lakes, that present themselves in different directions.
Beef, mutton, pork, and poultry are also very cheap, and, except the last, very good. The vegtable market of Ennis is one of the best I haven seen in a country town.
The wild fowl of this county, particularly in the barony of Inchiquin, are remarkable for being well fed, and for a high and at the same time a sweet flavour.
Formerly this county contained a number of deer-parks, and the venison was estemed exquisitely fine,* as the heathy grass, the hazel copse, and all that wild herbage, that deer love to feed on (and without which they are not as good as mutton,) abounded in many parts; but there are few inclosures kept up for deer now, as the rise on lands has so greatly encreased their value, that what few years ago was allotted for a deer-park, as rough mountainous ground worth little or nothing, if set at this day, fetches a very great rent; consequently venison has become proportionably scarce, few wishing to pay at least half a crown a pound for it, the rate at which I am convinced every person, that feeds on five years old buck, eats it.
It is with great pleasure I am now to close these observations with a remark as to the cordiality, that subsists in this county between the Protestants and the Catholics; they intermarry according to their inclination and circumstances, without any impediment from a difference of persuasion, and live in habits of sincere friendship and good will, free from that bigotry and rancour, that tend to the ruin and disgrace of other parts of Ireland, and which under the pretence of religion violate its pure and benevolent precepts.* Mr. Brady of Raheens still maintains the credit of his venison, which has been always in high estimation, and he still keeps up his pack of buck-hounds.
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