From A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland

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FromA Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland


Reverend Thomas Campbell

Thomas Campbell (1733–1795), born in County Tyrone, became a Church of Ireland clergyman and a writer remembered chiefly for his association with Johnson and Boswell. He wrote his Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland, somewhat confusingly, in the fictitious persona of an English traveler.

SEE ALSO English Writing on Ireland before 1800

Boate, who wrote about a hundred years since, arranges the Irish cities in the following order: Dublin, Galway, Waterford, Limerick, Cork and Londonderry. As to the other towns, he says, the best of them, which are Drogheda, Kilkenny, Belfast, &c., are hardly comparable to those market-towns which are to be found in all parts of England. But how greatly must this order be now deranged, when it is universally believed, that the third town, in trade and consequence, is Belfast. In extent also, it comes next to Cork, for it has 5,295 houses, Limerick but 3,859, and Waterford 2,628. It is remarkable that Newry, a town not so much as named by Boate, has now more trade, houses, and people than Galway.

Dublin. The magnitude of this city is much greater than I imagined; I conclude it to be nearer a fourth, than a fifth of that of London. Viewing it from any of its towers, it seems to be more; but from walking the streets, I should take it to be less . . . and reckoning six to a family, or twelve to a house, there will be above 160,000 souls in Dublin.

The bulk of this city is like the worst parts of St. Giles's, but the new streets are just as good as ours. They have finished one side of a square called Merion's Square, in a very elegant style. Near it is a square called Stephen's Green, round which is a gravel walk of near a mile; here, genteel company walk in the evenings, and on Sundays, after two o'clock, as with us in St. James's Park. This square has some grand houses, and is in general well built. The great inequality of the houses instead of diminishing, does, in my opinion, add to its beauty. The situation is cheerful, and the buildings around it multiply fast. Almost all the tolerable houses and streets have been built within forty years. Since the year 1685, the increase has been amazing. . . .

The quays of Dublin are its principal beauty; they lie on each side the river, which is banked and walled in, the whole length of the city; and at the breadth of a wide street from the river on each side, the houses are built fronting each other, which has a grand effect. When these streets are paved like the streets of London, we shall have nothing to compare with them.

Yesterday I went down the North Strand, catching the sea breezes as I rode along. Before you is the sea covered with ships; on the left of the bay, is a country beautifully varied, and sufficiently dressed by art, to enrich the landskip; to the right, the conical mountains of Wicklow terminate your view. The river Liffey and part of the city compose the foreground of this exquisite piece. . . .

If you prefer the men of this country for their hospitality and the women for their beauty, you are likely to live well with them. The ladies are, I believe, full as handsome as ours, yet it was sometime before I could bring myself to think so. . . . They are said not to walk as well as with us. If the fact be so I would rather attribute it to the badness of the streets, than to any wrong conformation of limbs. . . . In another generation, when the sides of these streets are flagged, the ladies of Dublin may be as much praised for their way of walking, as those of London.

It is deemed almost a reproach for a gentlewoman to be seen walking these streets. An old lady of quality told me last night, when speaking on this subject, that for her part, truly she had not once walked over Essex Bridge, since she was a girl. Now Essex Bridge is the grand pass here, as Charing Cross is in London. If it were not for dancing, of which they are passionately fond, the poor girls must all become cripples. It is impossible they should excel in what they do not practise; but, if they walk ill, they certainly dance well. For last night, you must know, I was at a ball, and never enjoyed one more in my life. There is a sweet affability and sparkling vivacity in these girls, which is very captivating.

Cork is a city large and extensive, beyond my expectation. I had been taught to think worse of it, in all respects, than it deserves. . . . And as it is the great shambles of the Kingdom, I was predisposed to credit these reports; but is really as clean, in general, as the metropolis. The slaughter houses are all in the suburbs, and there, indeed, the gale is not untainted but in the city properly so called, all is tolerably clean and consequently sweet. . . . There are two large stone bridges, one to the north, and the other to the south, over the great branches of the Lee, besides several small ones and some draw-bridges thrown over the lesser branches or canals. There are seven churches, an exchange, a customhouse, a barrack, several hospitals, and other public structures, yet none of them worth a second look. I have not seen a single monument of antiquity in the whole town, nor heard a bell in any of the churches, too good for the dinner-bell of a country squire. But here is something infinitely better. Here is the busy bustle of prosperous trade, and all its concomitant blessings; here is a most magnificent temple, erected to plenty in the midst of a marsh. . . . Smith's history of Cork, quoting Stanihurst, reports that 120 years ago, Cork was but the third city in Munster, now it is the second in the kingdom, and therefore called the Bristol of Ireland.

Kilkenny values itself upon its superior gentility and urbanity. It is much frequented by the neighbouring gentry as a country residence, has a stand of nine sedan chairs, and is not without the appearance of an agreeable place. I went last night to their weekly assembly, and was soon given to understand, by one of my partners that Kilkenny has always been esteemed the most polite and well-bred part of the kingdom. Knowing so little of this country, I am not furnished with any arguments from either reason or authority, to dispute this pretension. My partner was so beautiful a woman and so striking an example of the doctrine she taught that she led me away an easy captive to the opinion. For which I can see the justest grounds. This was the site for the Ormond family, here the last duke kept a court, as several of his predecessors had done, in a style much more magnificent than any of the modern viceroys. The people imbibed the court manners, and manners remain long after their causes are removed.

At present the inheritor of the castle and some of the appendant manors, a Roman Catholic gentleman, affects the state of his ancestors; his wife receives company as, I am told, the old Ormond ladies used to do; she never returns visits; and people seem disposed to yield her this preeminence. The cook belonging to this inn, the Sheaf of Wheat, wears ruffles; and, though an old man, is full of vivacity as politeness. . . .

I am not singular in remarking that the peasants of this country are a most comely breed of men. They are generally middle sized, and have almost universally dark brown hair, and eyes of the same colour. The complexions are clear, their countenances grave, and their faces of that oval character, which the Italian painters so much admire.

Belfast is a very handsome, thriving, well-peopled Town; a great many new houses and good shops in it. The folks seemed all very busy and employed in trade, the inhabitants being for the most part merchants, or employ'd under 'em, in this sea-port, which stands, conveniently enough, at the very inner part of Carrickfergus. Thro' the town there runs a small rivulet, not much better than that they call the Glibb in Dublin, which, however, is of great use for bringing their goods to the Key when the tide serves. . . . Here we saw a very good manufacture of earthenware which nearest Delft of any made in Ireland, and really is not much short of it. 'Tis very clean and pretty, and universally used in the north, and I think not so much owing to any peculiar happiness in their clay but rather to the manner of beating and mixing it up.

Limerick is a place fortified by nature; for, without the annoyance of circumjacent hills, it is built upon an island, encircled by a strong barrier, the arms of the Shannon. It is now happily dismantled, and scarce a trace of its old walls and seventeen gates are to be seen. The substitution of spacious quays and commodious houses, in place of lofty battlements and massive bastions, has given it a thorough and healthy ventilation. Limerick, like London, was formerly and frequently visited by the plague; but the effect has here also been removed by the removal of the cause. . . .

I can easily believe that the women here deserve their celebrated character for beauty; for I have seen great numbers of pretty faces in the streets and public walks. In general, the common people, too, are of a very comely personage. The streets are always crowded with them; having no staple manufacture to employ them, they walk about, like the sluggard, with their hands in their bosom. They once had a manufacture of serges, but that is nearly extinct. They are, however, famous for making gloves. . . . A few years ago the town stood on sixty-four acres of ground; now it covers one hundred, equal to 160 of our measure.

And now having finished my little tour through two provinces of Ireland and ruminating upon what I have seen, I must say, and I cannot say it in words so authoritative as those of Sir John Davies:

I have observed the good temperature of the air, the fruitfulness of the soil, the pleasant and commodious seats for habitation, the safe and large ports and havens, lying open for traffic into all western parts of the world, the long inlets of many naviggable rivers and so many great lakes and fresh ponds within the land, as the like are not to be seen in any part of Europe; and, lastly, the bodies and minds of the people endued with extraordinary abilities, of nature.

After considering all this, yet seeing at the same time that the greater, and certainly the best part of what I have seen, instead of being in a progressive state of improvement, is verging to depopulation; that the inhabitants are either moping under the sullen gloom of inactive indigence, or blindly asserting the rights of nature in nocturnal insurrections, attended with circumstances of ruinous devastation and savage cruelty, must we not conclude that there are political errors somewhere?

Cruelty is not in the nature of these people more than of other men, for they have many customs among them, which discover uncommon gentleness, kindness and affection. Nor are they singular in their hatred of labour. . . . There is no necessity for recurring to natural disposition, when the political constitution obtrudes upon us so many obvious and sufficient causes of the sad effects we complain of.

The first is, the suffering avarice to convert the arable lands into pasture. The evils arising from this custom in England were so grievous . . . so great was the discontent of the people, from poverty occasioned by decay of tillage and increase of pasturage, that they rose in actual rebellion in the reign of Edward VI and sharpened by indigence and oppression, demolished in many countries the greatest part of the inclosures.

Here you see an exact prototype of the present disturbances in Munster, carried on by the rabble, originally called Levellers, from their levelling the inclosures of commons, but now White Boys, from their wearing their shirts over their coats, for the sake of distinction in the night. There it was a rebellion, here it is only a star-light insurrection, disavowed by everybody; and the impotence of those engaged to do anything effectual, drives them into wanton and malignant acts of cruelty on individuals. Hopeless of redress, they are provoked to acts of desperation. . . . And as little wonder that insurrection should rear its head in this ill-fated country; the first landlords of which are absentees, the second either forestallers or graziers, and where the only tiller of the ground stands in a third, and sometimes in a fourth degree from the original proprietor. Something should be thought of, something done, to restore the rights of human nature, in a country almost usurped by bullocks and sheep.

Reprinted in Ireland from the Flight of the Earls to Grattan's Parliament(1607–1782), edited by James Carty (1965), pp. 128–132.

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From A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland