From "A Discourse of Ireland"

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From "A Discourse of Ireland"


Luke Gernon

Little is known of Luke Gernon's early life, but he may have been from Hertfordshire, and he was appointed second justice of Munster in 1619. He lived in Limerick until the Rebellion of 1641 when, like many English settlers in Ireland, he lost most of his possessions. He was well connected, probably friends with Richard Boyle, the Great earl of Cork, and his wife seems to have known Archbishop Ussher. He died sometime before 1673. His "Discourse," a long letter written to an unnamed friend in which he gives his impressions of the country to which he has recently moved, probably dates from the winter of 1620. In thissection he describes the appearance and dress of Irish men and women.

SEE ALSO English Writing on Ireland before 1800

Lett us converse with the people. Lord, what makes you so squeamish—be not affrayed. The Irishman is no Canniball to eate you up nor no lowsy Jack to offend you.

The man of Ireland is of a strong constitution, tall and bigg limbed, but seldom fatt, patient of heate and colde, but impatient of labour. Of nature he is prompt and ingenious, but servile crafty and inquisitive after newes, the simptomes of a conquered nation. Theyr speech hath been accused to be a whyning language, but that is among the beggars. I take it to be a smooth language, well commixt of vouells and of consonants, and hath a pleasing cadence.

The better sorte are apparelled at all poynts like the English onely they retayne theyr mantle which is a garment not indecent. It differs nothing from a long cloke, but in the fringe at the upper end, which in could weather they weare over their heades for warmth. Because they are commanded at publicke assemblies to come in English habit, they have a tricke agaynst those times, to take off the fringe, and to putt on a cape, and after the assembly past, to resume it agayne. If you aske an Irishman for his cloke, he will tell you it is in his pockett and show you his cape. The churle is apparrelled in this maner. His doublett is a packe saddle of canvase, or coarse cloth without skirtes, but in winter he weares a frise cote. The trowse is a long stocke of frise, close to his thighes, and drawne on almost to his waste, but very scant, and the pryde of it is, to weare it so in suspense, that the beholder may still suspecte it to be falling from his arse. It is cutt with a pouche before, whiche is drawne together with a string. He that will be counted a spruce ladd, tyes it up with a twisted band of two colours like the string of a clokebagge. An Irishman walking in London a cutpurse took it for a cheate, and gave him a slash. His broges are single soled, more rudely sewed then a shoo but more strong, sharp at the toe, and a flapp of leather left at the heele to pull them on. His hatt is a frise capp close to his head with two lappetts, to button under his chinne. And for his weapon he weares a skeyne which is a knife of three fingers broad of the length of a dagger and sharpening towards the poynt with a rude wodden handle. He weares it poynt blanke at his codpiece. The ordinary kerne seldome weares a sword. They are also wedded to theyr mantle, the plow, they ditch, they thressh with theyr mantles on. But you look after the wenches.

The weomen of Ireland are very comely creatures, tall, slender and upright. Of complexion very fayre & cleare-skinned (but frecled), with tresses of bright yellow hayre, which they chayne up in curious knotts, and devises. They are not strait laced or plated in theyr youth, but suffred to grow at liberty so that you shall hardly see one crooked or deformed, but yet as the proverb is, soone ripe soone rotten. Theyr propensity to generation causeth that they cannot endure. They are wemen at thirteene, and olde wives at thirty. I never saw fayrer wenches nor fowler calliots, so we call the old wemen. Of nature they are very kind and tractable. At meetings they offer themselves to be kiste with the hande extended to embrace you. The yong wenches salute you, conferre with you, drinke with you without controll. They are not so reserved as the English, yett very honest. Cuckoldry is a thing almost unknowne among the Irish. At solemne invitements, the Benytee, so we call the goodwife of the house meets at the hall dore with as many of her femall kindred as are about her all on a row; to leave any of them unkist, were an indignity though it were done by the lord president.

I come to theyr apparrell. About Dublin they weare the English habit, mantles onely added thereunto, and they that goe in silkes, will weare a mantle of country making. In the country even among theyr Irish habitts they have sundry fashions. I will beginne with the ornament of theyr heads. At Kilkenny they weare broad beaver hatts coloured, edged with a gold lace and faced with velvett, with a broad gould hatt band. At Waterford they weare capps, turned up with furre and laced with gold lace. At Lymerick they weare rolles of lynnen, each roll contayning twenty bandles of fyne lynnen clothe (A Bandle is half an ell), and made up in forme of a myter. To this if it be could weather, there is added a muffler over theyr neck and chinne of like quantity of linnen; being so muffled, over all they will pinne on an English maske of blacke taffety, which is most rarely ridiculous to behold. In Connaught they weare rolles in forme of a cheese. In Thomond they weare kerchiefs, hanging downe to the middle of theyr backe. The maydes weare on the forepart of theyr head about foure yards of couloured ribbon smoothly layd, and theyr owne hayre playted behind. In other places they weare theyre hayre loose and cast behind. They weare no bands, but the ornament of theyr neckes is a carkanett of goldsmyths worke besett with precious stones, some of them very ritch, but most of them gawdy and made of paynted glasses and at the end of them a crucifixe. They weare also braceletts, and many rings. I proceed to theyr gowns. Lend me your imaginacion, and I will cutt it out as well as the tayler. They have straight bodyes, and longe wasts, but theyr bodyes come no closer, but to the middle of the ribbe, the rest is supplyed with lacing, from the topp of their breasts, to the bottome of theyr plackett, the ordinary sort have only theyr smockes between, but the better sort have a silk scarfe about theyr neck, which they spread and pinne over theyre breasts. On the forepart of those bodyes thay have a sett of broad silver buttons of goldsmiths worke sett round about. A sett of those buttons will be worth 40s, some are worth £5. They have hanging sleeves, very narrow, but no arming sleeves, other then theyre smocke sleeves, or a wastcoate of stripped stuffe, onely they have a wrestband of the same cloth, and a lyst of the same to joyne it to theyr winge, but no thing on the hinter part of the arme least they should weare out theyr elbowes. The better sort have sleeves of satten. The skyrt is a piece of rare artifice. At every bredth of three fingers they sew it quite through with a welte, so that it seemeth so many lystes putt together. That they do for strength, they girde theyr gowne with a silke girdle, the tassell whereof must hang downe poynt blanke before to the fringe of theyr peticotes, but I will not descend to theyr peticotes, least you should thinke that I have bene under them. They beginne to weare knitt stockins coloured, but they have not disdayned to weare stockins of raw whyte frise, and broges. They weare theyr mantles also as well with in doors as with out. Theyr mantles are commonly of a browne blew colour with the fringe alike, but those that love to be gallant were them of greene, redd, yellow, and other light colours, with fringes diversified. An ordinary mantle is worth £4, those in the country which cannot go to the price weare whyte sheets mantlewise. I would not have you suppose that all the Irish are thus strangely attyred as I have described. The old women are loath to be shifted out of theyr auncient habitts, but the younger sort, especially in gentlemens houses are brought up to resemble the English, so that it is to be hoped, that the next age will weare out these disguises. Of theyr cleanlynes I will not speak.

Reprinted in Strangers to That Land: British Perceptions of Ireland from the Reformation to the Famine,edited by Andrew Hadfield and John McVeagh (1994), pp. 81–83.

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From "A Discourse of Ireland"

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From "A Discourse of Ireland"