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From A New Description of Ireland

FromA New Description of Ireland


Barnaby Rich

A military man and vehement Protestant, Barnaby Rich served in the Dutch wars until 1573, when he joined the first earl of Essex's first expedition to colonize Ulster. After serving as a spy in Ireland, he was forced to return to England. In 1599 he fought with the second earl of Essex's army against Hugh O'Neill and later participated in Mountjoy's campaign. He tried unsuccessfully to obtainlands in Ulster after 1607, remaining in Dublin until his death in 1617 or 1618. This extract comes from his longest published treatise on Ireland. Here he describes the Irish, noting their physical appearance and temperament as different from the English.

SEE ALSO English Writing on Ireland before 1800

To speake now of the Irish more at large, for to them my talke doth especially belong, I say they are behoulding to Nature, that hath framed them comly personages of good proportion, very well limbed, & to speak truly, the English, Scottish and Irish are easie to be discerned from all the Nations of the world: besides, aswel by the excellency of their complexions, as by the rest of their lineaments, from the crown of the head, to the sole of the foot. And although that in the romote places, the uncivill sort so disfigure themselves with their Glybs [forelocks], their Trowes [trousers], and their misshappen attire, yet they appear to every mans eye to be men of good proportion, of comly stature, and of able body. Now to speak of their dispositions, whereunto thay are adicted and inclined. I say, besides they are rude, uncleanlie, and uncivill, so they are very cruell, bloodie minded, apt and ready to commit any kind of mischiefe. I do not impute this so much to their naturall inclination, as I do to their education, that are trained up in Treason, in Rebellion, in Theft, in Robery, in Superstition, in Idolatry, and nuzeled [nursed, educated] from their Cradles in the very puddle of Popery.

This is the fruits of the Popes doctrine, that doth preach cruelty, that doth admit of murthers and bloudy executions; by poisoning, stabbing, or by any other manner of practice howsoever: the pope teacheth subjects to resist, to mutinie, and to rebel against their Princes.

From hence it proceedeth, that the Irish have ever beene, and still are, desirous to shake off the English government.

From hence it doth proceed, that the Irish can not endure to love the English, bicause they differ so much in Religion.

From hence it proceedeth, that as they cannot indure to love the English, so they cannot be induced to love anything that doth come from the English: according to the proverbe, love me, and love my dog: so contrariwise, he that hateth me, hateth in like manner all that commeth from me.

From hence it is, that the Irish had rather stil retaine themselves in their sluttishnesse, in their uncleanlinesse, in their rudenesse, and in their inhumane loathsomenes, then they would take any example from the English, either of civility, humanity, or any manner of Decencie.

We see nowe the author of this enmity, is hee that never did other good, where hee had to doe with mens consciences.

There is yet a difference to bee made, of those that do proceed from our malice: and the Irish in this are the more to be pittied, that are no better taught; whose educations, as they are rude, so they are blinded with ignorance, and I thinke for devotions sake, they have made a vow to be ignorant.

But although the vulgar sort, through their dul wits, and their brutish education, cannot conceive what is profitable for themselves, and good for their Countrey, yet there bee some other of that Countrey birth, whose thoughts and mindes being inriched with knowledge and understanding, that have done good in the Country, and whose example hereafter may give light to many others: For I thinke, that if these people did once understand the pretiousnesse of vertue, they would farre exceed us; notwithstanding, our long experience in the Soveraignty of vertue.

Reprinted in Strangers to That Land: British Perceptions of Irelan from the Reformation to the Famine, edited by Andrew Hadfield and John McVeagh (1994), pp. 45–47.

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