From Narrative of a Residence in Ireland
FromNarrative of a Residence in Ireland
Anne Plumptre (1760–1818) was a well-known playwright, translator, traveler, and travel writer of the early nineteenth century. After living in France between 1802 and 1805, she published an account of her residence there. Her Irish journey of 1814 to 1815 forms the basis of this narrative. Here she links the Irish with the French, both perceived as "different" from the English.
I shall be thought, perhaps, by my own countrymen to cast the severest reflection that can be cast upon the Irish, when I say that they perpetually reminded me of the French. There is a much stronger resemblance in them to the French national character than to the English; and this resemblance is equally forcible in the lower as in the higher classes of society. Nothing is more comic than to observe the difference between an English mechanic and a French or Irish one. I once, when travelling in France, wanted something done to the lid of a trunk, which I thought in some danger of splitting in two. I did not wish, however, to be long delayed by the job; and recollecting how an English carpenter or trunk-maker would have chiselled and planed a piece of wood, and fitted and fitted it over again before he could have been satisfied to nail it upon the trunk, and how much time all this would take, I was rather afraid of submitting my wounded servant to such a process; I thought I should be impatienté at the longueur, and I tried to persuade myself that the case was not of a very pressing nature. Yet the more I examined, the more imminent the danger appeared; and at length I desired that a carpenter might be sent for, stating what I wanted. Veni, vidi, vicisays Caesar; and so it was with the carpenter: I need not have been so much afraid of delay. He brought with him a hammer, a few nails, and a rough spline: the latter was knocked on in two minutes, and all was accomplished. It did not look quite so neat as if it had come from the hands of an English workman: it held the lid together, however, and all was well: but the rapidity with which the whole was performed was amusing and highly characteristic. The same is very much the case with the Irish: —ardent in their pursuits, rapid in their movements, they blaze brilliantly for a while, but the ardour is too apt easily to subside; while with the Englishman, who is less alive at catching fire, when the flame within him is once lighted, it burns on even and steady, nor is readily exhausted. It is perhaps extraordinary, considering the state of depression in which the Irish have been kept for such a lengthened series of years, that they still retain so much of their native wit, ardour, and vivacity; but even now an Irishman, like a Frenchman, will have his joke if it comes in his way, coûte-qui-coûte.
A very marked difference is, however, to be observed between the inhabitants of the two extremes of Ireland which I visited, the north-east or county of Antrim, and the south-west, including the counties of Cork and Kerry, strongly supporting the belief that their origin is to be traced to different sources. In the south of Ireland the people are much darker than in the north; and here was the country where the Milesians from Spain, according to all the traditions, both written and oral, were first established. Now the dark complexion, eyes and hair, have been ever, and still are, the distinguishing characteristics of all the Southern nations of Europe; as the fair complexion, blue eyes, and light hair, sometimes deviating into red, were, and are still, of the Northern. The one are bleached by colds and snows, the others darkened by the warmth of the sun. Now, every possible presumptive evidence leads to the belief that the north of Ireland, or perhaps all Ireland and Scotland, were originally peopled from the Northern nations of Europe, the parts which formed the ancient Scandinavia; while the south, if originally peopled by the same, afterwards became the settlement of an Iberian colony, whose descendants remain there to this day. A close and constant intercourse has always subsisted between the inhabitants of the north of Ireland and Scotland, so that they ever have been, as it were, one and the same people. In more than one part the coasts come so near as within eighteen miles of each other: the distance is no more between Port Patrick in Scotland and Donaghadee in Ireland, and between the Mull of Cantire in Scotland and the county of Antrim in Ireland. Indeed there can scarcely be doubt, from the name, that Port Patrick originally an establishment of the Irish. It is well known that the Irish are in ancient records called Scots; but at the Milesian conquest, these people coming from the land of Iberia, one of the leaders also bearing the name Heber, thence the name of Hibernia, afterwards given to the island, was derived; whilst the natives driven constantly northwards, many of them probably at that time migrating to Scotland, transferred thither with themselves the name they bore. There is besides more of the true Irish quickness and vivacity in the south of Ireland than in the north; the people of the north partake somewhat of the solemnity of their neighbours the Scots.
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. 154–155.