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Sir William Brereton

Sir William Brereton (1604–1661), an Englishman, later became an officer in the army of the English parliament. But in the 1630s he was an energetic tourist in Britain, Ireland, and on the Continent. Here he reports his observations during a progress south from eastern Ulster through Newry, Dundalk, and Drogheda.

SEE ALSO English Writing on Ireland before 1800

Jul. 7—We left Dromemoore and went to the NEWRIE, which is sixteen miles. This is a most difficult way for a stranger to find out. Herein we wandered, and being lost, fell amongst the Irish towns. The Irish houses are the poorest cabins I have seen, erected in the middle of fields and grounds, which they farm and rent. This is a wild country, not inhabited, planted, nor enclosed, yet it would be good corn if it were husbanded. I gave an Irishmen to bring us into the way a groat, who led us like a villain directly out of the way and so left us, so as by this deviation it was three hour before we came to the Newrie. Much land there is about this town belonging to Mr. Bagnall, nothing well planted. He hath a castle in this town, but it is for most part resident at Green Castle; a great part of this town is his, and it is reported that he hath a £1000 or £1500 per annum in this country. This is but a poor town, and is much Irish, and is navigable for boats to come up unto with the tide. Here we baited at a good inn, the sign of the Prince's Arms. Hence to Dundalke is eight mile; stony, craggy, hilly, and uneven, but a way it is nothing difficult to find. Before you come to Dundalke you may discern four or five towers or castles seated upon the sea side.

This town of DUNDALKE hath been a town of strength, and is still a walled town, and a company of fifty soldiers are here in garrison under the command of Sir Faithful Fortesque. This town is governed by two bailiffs, sheriffs, and aldermen; the greatest part of the inhabitants of the town are popishly affected, and although my Lord Deputy, at the last election of burgesses for the Parliament, commended unto them Sir Faithful Fortesque and Sir Arthur Teringham, yet they rejected both, and elected a couple of recusants. One of the present baliffs is popish. Abundance of Irish, both gentlemen and others, dwell in this town, wherein they dare to take the boldness to go to mass openly. This town seated upon the sea so as barks may come within a convenient distance with the flood; much low, level, flat land hereabouts, which is often overflowed in the winter, and here is abundance of fowl, and a convenient seat. Here we lodged at one Mris. Veasie's house, a most mighty fat woman; she saith she is a Cheshire woman, near related in blood to the Breretons; desired much to see me; so fat she is, as she is so unwieldy, she can scarce stand or go without crutches. This reported one of the best inns in north of Ireland; ordinary 8d. and 6d., only the knave tapster over-reckoned us in drink.

Jul. 8—We left Dundalke and came to TREDAUGH [Drogheda], which is accounted sixteen mile, but they are as long as twenty-two mile. About five mile hence we saw Sir Faithful Fortesque's house or castle, wherein for most part he is resident, which he holds by a long lease upon a small rent under my Lord Primate of Armath. This is a dainty, pleasant, healthful, and commodious seat, and it is worth unto him about [gap in MS]. During ten miles riding from this town, much rich corn land, and the country as well planted; the other six miles towards Tredaugh, until you come near unto it, not so rich land, nor so well husbanded.

This town, as it is the largest and best built town I have yet seen in Ireland, so it is most commodiously seated upon a good navigable river, called Boyne, whereinto flows the sea in so deep a channel (though it be very narrow) as their ships may come to their doors. This river is built on both sides, and there is on either side convenient quay; a stone wall built along the river, so as a ship may lie close unto this quay, and may unload upon her. It is like the quay of Newcastle, and those channels I have seen in Holland in their streets. This town commodiously also situated for fish and fowl. It is governed by a mayor, a sheriffs, and twenty-four aldermen; most of these, as also the other inhabitants of the town, popishly affected, insomuch as those that have been chosen mayors, who for the most part have been recusants, have hired others to discharge that office. One man (it is said) hath been hired by deputation to execute that place thirteen times; the present mayor also is but a deputy, and the reason why they make coy to execute that office is because they will avoid being necessitated to go to church.

I observed in this city divers fair, neat, well built houses, and houses and shops well furnished, so as I did conceive this to be a rich town; the inhabitants civilized and better apparelled. . . .

We came to the city of DUBLIN, July 9, about 10 hour. This is the metropolis of the kingdom of Ireland, and is beyond all exception the fairest, richest, best built city I have met with in this journey (except York and Newcastle). . . .

This city of Dublin, is extending his bound and limits very far; much additions of buildings lately, and some of those very fair, stately and complete buildings; every commodity is grown very dear. You must pay also for an horse hire 1s. 6d. a day: here I met with an excellent, judicious and painful smith. Here are divers commodities cried in Dublin as in London, which it doth more resemble than any town I have seen in the king of England's dominions.

Jul. 14—Upon Tuesday, July 14, I left Dublin and came to HACQUETTS TOWN, about eleven hour at night. It is accounted twenty-seven miles, but it is as long as thirty-seven. After you pass four miles from Dublin, you travel through the mountains, which are dry land, and some of them good pasture for cattle that are young, and sheep, but these are not sufficiently stocked. Towards evening we passed through troublesome and dangerous ways and woods, and had wandered all night, had we not hired an Irish guide, by whose directions we arrived at eleven hour at Hacquett's Town, where we lodged in a little, low, poor, thatched castle. Here Mr. Wattson, a Lanarkshire man, hath a plantation. As we passed this way, I observed the head of the river Liffe, which comes under the bridge at Dublin, whence it is made navigable by the flood, which goeth a mile above the bridge, and little further; I passed also, about eighteen miles from Dublin, by the head of the Slane, which runs to Waxford, and is there navigable, and twenty miles above Waxford.

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. 60–62.

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