From The Total Discourse of His Rare Adventures

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FromThe Total Discourse of His Rare Adventures


William Lithgow

This text by William Lithgow is a contribution to the bizarre (although occasionally accurate) ethnography of the Irish which was begun by Gerald of Wales in the twelfth century. Wild and woolly descriptions of the highly unlikely are mixed with true reports, such as of the Irish practice of "plowing by the tail," a technique which has its agricultural defenders.

SEE ALSO Agriculture: 1500 to 1690; English Writing on Ireland before 1800

And this I dare avow, there are more Rivers, Lakes, Brookes, Strands, Quagmires, Bogs, and Marishes, in this Countrey, then in all Christendome besides; for Travelling there in the Winter, all my dayly solace, was sincke down comfort; whiles Boggy-plunging deepes kissing my horse belly; whiles over-mired Saddle, Body, and all; and often or ever set a swimming, in great danger, both I, and my Guides of our Lives: That for cloudy and fountayne-bred perils, I was never before reducted to such a floting Laborinth. Considering that in five moneths space, I quite spoyled sixe horses, and my selfe as tyred as the worst of them. . . .

I remember I saw in Irelands North-parts, two remarkable sights: The one was their manner of Tillage, Ploughes drawne by Horsetayles, wanting garnishing, they are only fastned, with straw, or wooden Ropes to their bare Rumps, marching all side for side, three or foure in a Ranke, and as many men hanging by the ends of that untoward Labour. It is as bad a Husbandry I say, as ever I found among the wildest Savages alive; for the Caramins, who understand not the civill forme of Agriculture; yet they delve, hollow, and turne over the ground, with manuall and Wooden instruments: but they the Irish have thousands of both Kingdomes daily labouring beside them; yet they can not learne, because they wil not learn, to use garnishing, so obstinate they are in their barbarous consuetude, unlesse punishment and penalties were inflicted; and yet most of them are content to pay twenty shillings a yeare, before they wil change their Custome.

The other as goodly sight I saw, was women travayling the way, or toyling at home, carry their Infants about their neckes, and laying the dugges over their shoulders, would give sucke to the Babes behinde their backes, without taking them in their armes: Such kind of breasts, me thinketh were very fit, to be made money bags for East or West-Indian Merchants, being more than halfe a yard long, and as wel wrought as any Tanner, in the like charge, could ever mollifie such Leather.

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. 59–60.

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From The Total Discourse of His Rare Adventures

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From The Total Discourse of His Rare Adventures