From An Itinerary

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FromAn Itinerary


Fynes Moryson

Secretary to Lord Deputy Mountjoy, Fynes Moryson (1566–1617) in his Itinerary celebrated the lord deputy's victories in the closing phases of the Nine Years War (1594–1603). The exception to his general disdain for Ireland was his high regard for Irish whiskey.

SEE ALSO English Writing on Ireland before 1800

Touching the Irish dyet, Some Lords and Knights, and Gentlemen of the English-Irish, and all the English there abiding having competent meanes, use the English dyet, but some more, some lesse cleanly, few or none curiously, and no doubt they have as great and for their part greater plenty then the English, of flesh, fowle, fish, and all things for food, if they will use like Art of Cookery. Alwaies I except the Fruits, Venison, and some dainties proper to England, and rare in Ireland. And we must conceive, that Venison and Fowle seeme to be more plentiful in Ireland, because they neither so generally affect dainty foode nor so diligently search it as the English do. Many of the English-Irish, have by little and little been infected with the Irish filthiness, and that in the very cities, excepting Dublyn, and some of the better sort in Waterford, where, the English continually lodging in their houses, they more retain the English diet. The English-Irish, after our manner serve to the table joynts of flesh cut after our fashion, with Geese, Pullets, Pigges, and like rosted meats, but their ordinary food for the common sort is of Whitmeates, and they eate cakes of oates for bread, and drinke not English Beere made of Mault and Hops, but Ale. At Corck I have seene with these eyes, young maides starke naked grinding of Corne with certaine stones to make cakes thereof, and striking of into the tub or meale, such reliques thereof as stuck on their belly, thighes and more unseemly parts.

And for the cheese and butter commonly made by the English Irish, an English man would not touch it with his lippes, though hee were halfe starved; yet many English inhabitants make very good of both kindes. In Cities they have such bread as ours, but of sharpe savour, and some mingled with Annisseeds, and baked like cakes, and that onely in the houses of the better sort.

At Dublyn and in some other Cities, they have taverns, wherein Spanish and French Wines are sold, but more commonly the Merchants sell them by pintes and quartes in their owne Cellers. The Irish Aquavitæ, vulgarly called Usquebagh, is held the best in the World of that kind; which is made also in England, but nothing so good as that which is brought out of Ireland. And the Usquebagh is preferred before our Aquavitæ, because the mingling of Raysons, Fennell seede, and other things, mitigating the heate, and making the taste pleasant, makes it lesse inflame, and yet refresh the weake stomake with moderate heate, and a good relish. These Drinkes the English-Irish drink largely, and in many families (especially at feasts) both men and women use excesse therein. And since I have in part seene, and often heard from others experience, that some Gentlewomen were so free in this excesse, as they would kneeling upon the knee, and otherwise garausse health after health with men; not to speake of the wives of Irish Lords, or to referre it to the due place, who often drinke till they be drunken, or at least till they voide urine in full assemblies of men, I cannot (though unwilling) but note the Irish women more specially with this fault, which I have observed in no other part to be a woman's vice, but onely in Bohemia: Yet, so accusing them, I meane not to excuse the men, and will also confesse that I have seen Virgins, as well Gentlewomen as Citizens, commanded by their mothers to retyre after they had in curtesie pledged one or two healths. . . .

The wild and (as I may say) meere Irish, inhabiting many and large Provinces, are barbarous and most filthy in their diet. They skum the seething pot with an handfull of straw, and straine their milk taken from the Cow through a like handful of straw, none of the cleanest, and so cleanse, or rather more defile the pot and milke. They devoure great morsels of beefe unsalted, and they eat commonly Swines flesh, seldom mutton, and all these pieces of flesh, as also the intralles of beasts unwashed, they seeth in a hollow tree, lapped in a raw Cowes hide, and so set over the fier, and therewith swallow whole lumps of filthy butter. Yea (which is more contrary to nature) they will feede on Horses dying of themselves, not only upon small want of flesh, but even for pleasure. For I remember an accident in the Army, when the Lord Mountjoy, the Lord Deputy, riding to take the ayre out of the Campe, found the buttocks of dead Horses cut off, and suspecting that some soldiers had eaten that flesh out of necessity, being defrauded of the victuals allowed them, commanded the men to bee searched out, among whom a common soldier, and that of the English-Irish, not of the meere Irish, being brought to the Lord Deputy, and asked why hee had eaten the flesh of dead Horses, thus freely answered, Your Lordship may please to eate Pheasant and Patridge, and much good doe it you that best likes your taste; and I hope it is lawfull for me without offence, to eate this flesh that likes me better then Beef. Whereupon the Lord Deputy perceiving himself to be deceived, & further understanding that he had received his ordinary victuals (the detaining whereof he suspected, and purposed to punish for example), gave the souldier a piece of gold to drinke in Usquebagh for better digestion, and so dismissed him.

The foresaid wilde Irish doe not thresh their Oates, but burne them from the straw, and so make cakes thereof, yet they seldome eate this bread, much lesse any better kind, especially in the time of warre, whereof a Bohemian Baron complained, who having seen the Courts of England and Scotland, would needes out of his curiosity returne through Ireland in the heate of the Rebellion; and having letters from the King of Scots to the Irish lords then in Rebellion, first landed among them, in the furthest North, where for eight dayes space hee had found no bread, not so much as a cake of Oates, till he came to eate with the Earl of Tyrone, and after obtaining the Lord Deputies Passe to come into our Army, related this their want of bread to us for a miracle, who nothing wondred thereat. Yea, the wilde Irish in time of greatest peace impute covetousnesse and base birth to him, that hath any Corne after Christmas, as if it were a point of Nobility to consume all within those Festivall dayes. They willingly eate the hearb Schamrock, being of a sharpe taste, which as they runne and are chased to and fro, they snatch like beasts out of the ditches. . . .

Many of these wilde Irish eate no flesh, but that which dyes of disease or otherwise of it selfe, neither can it scape them for stinking. They desire no broath, nor have any use of a spoone. They can neither seethe Artichokes, nor eate them when they are sodden. It is strange and ridiculous, but most true, that some of our carriage Horses falling into their hands, when they found Sope and Starch, carried for the use of our Laundresses, they thinking them to bee some dainty meates, did eate them greedily, and when they stuck in their teeth, cursed bitterly the gluttony of us English churles, for so they terme us. They feede most on Whitmeates, and esteem for a great daintie sower curds, vulgarly called by them Bonaclabbe. And for this cause they watchfully keep their Cowes, and fight for them as for religion and life; and when they are almost starved, yet they will not kill a Cow, except it bee old, and yeeld no Milke. Yet will they upon hunger in time of warre open a vaine of the Cow, and drinke the bloud, but in no case kill or much weaken it. A man would thinke these men to bee Scythians, who let their Horses bloud under the eares, and for nourishment drinke their bloud, and indeed (as I have formerly said), some of the Irish are of the race Scythians, comming into Spaine, and from thence into Ireland. The wild Irish (as I said) seldome kill a Cow to eate, and if perhaps they kill one for that purpose, they distribute it all to be devoured at one time; for they approve not the orderly eating at meales, but so they may eate enough when they are hungry, they care not to fast long. And I have knowne some of these Irish footemen serving in England, (where they are nothing lesse than sparing in the foode of their Families), to lay meate aside for many meales, to devoure it all at one time. . . .

These wild Irish never set any candles upon tables; What do I speak of Tables? since indeede they have no tables, but set their meate upon a bundle of grasse, and use the same Grasse for napkins to wipe their hands. But I meane that they doe not set candles upon any high place to give light to the house, but place a great candle made of reedes and butter upon the floure in the middest of a great roome. And in like sort the chiefe men in their houses make fiers in the middest of the roome, the smoake whereof goeth out at a hole in the top thereof. An Italian Frier comming of old into Ireland, and seeing at Armach this their diet and the nakedness of the women . . . is said to have cried out,

Civitas Armachana, Civitas vana
Carnes crudæ, mulieres nudæ.
Vaine Armagh City, I did thee pity,
Thy meates rawness, and womens nakedness.

I trust no man expects among these gallants any beds, much lesse fetherbeds and sheetes, who like the Nomades removing their dwellings, according to the commodity of pastures for their Cowes, sleepe under the Canopy of heaven, or in a poore house of clay, or in a cabbin made of the boughes of trees, and covered with turffe, for such are the dwellings of the very Lords among them. And in such places, they make a fier in the middest of the roome, and round about it they sleepe upon the ground, without straw or other thing under them, lying all in a circle about the fier, with their feete towards it. And their bodies being naked, they cover their heads and upper parts with their mantels, which they first make very wet, steeping them in water of purpose, for they finde that when their bodies have once warmed the wet mantels, the smoake of them keepes their bodies in temperate heate all the night following. And this manner of lodging, not only the meere Irish Lords, and their followers use, but even some of the English Irish Lords and their followers, when after the old but tyranicall and prohibited manner vulgarly called Coshering, they goe (as it were) on progresse, to live upon their tenants, til they have consumed all the victuals that the poore men have or can get. To conclude, not only in lodging passengers, not at all or most rudely, but even in their inhospitality towards them, these wild Irish are not much unlike to wild beasts, in whose caves a beast passing that way, might perhaps finde meate, but not without danger to be ill intertained, perhaps devoured, of his insatiable host.

Fynes Moryson, An Itinerary(1898), pp. 196–203.

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