T. Crofton Croker, Researches / in the / South of Ireland (1824) - extracts

[Bibl. details: Researches / in the / South of Ireland / Illustrative of / the Scenery, Architectural Remains, and the Manners / and Superstitions of the Peasantry / with / An Appendix / containing / A Private Narrative of the Rebellion of 1798 (London: John Murray, Albemarle St. MDCCCXXIV [1824]), 393pp. [printed by C. Roworth, London]. available at Internet Archive online; accxessed 8.11.2010. ]

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‘The pretensions of this Volume are very humble, as it consists of little more than an arrangement of notes made during several excursions in the South of Ireland between the years 1812 and 1822. - These I have endeavoured to condense into a popular shape rather than extend by minute detail. / Politics have been carefully avoided; whether this will be considered a recommendation, or a defect, I have yet to learn; but on a subject which has called forth so much angry discussion, I feel neither qualified nor inclined to offer an opinion. / In a Tour through part of the counties of Cork, Waterford, and Limerick, in 1821, Miss Nicholson and Mr. Alfred Nicholson were my companions:- to their pencils this Volume is chiefly indebted for its illustrations; and my best acknowledgments are likewise due to Mr. W. H. Brooke, for the careful manner in which he has prepared my sketches for the Wood Engravings printed with the text. [dated:] 22d December, 1823.’ [p.2].

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I have made use of the Journal of a Tour through some of the Southern Counties, as the most convenient means of combining and conveying information derived from various sources, with topographical remarks, and observations on the manners and superstitions of the peasantry. Taking the broad outline of rational and authentic history, since the connection of England with Ireland, my object has also been to illustrate the cause of existing distinctions between their respective children - a difference of so strong and peculiar a nature as decidedly to separate those who should feel united in one common interest, and which, under slight modifications, still threatens to render Ireland the scene of serious disaffection. My labours may be imperfect, and have unavoidably been limited to the districts treated on; yet I can with confidence claim the merit of having been an impartial observer and a faithful narrator of such events as have occurred within my own knowledge. (p.4.)

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“Fairies and Supernatural Agency” [Chap. V]: In common with other countries, particularly the Highlands of Scotland, a traditional belief exists amongst the Irish peasantry in those romantic little sprites denominated Fairies; and it is wonderful, considering their being creatures of imagination, that the superstitions respecting them should have remained so much confined, and so very similar. Whether the fairy mythology of Ireland has been derived from the East, and transmitted thence through the medium of Spain, or has, as some believe, a northern origin, it is of little import to inquire, particularly as nothing more than conjecture can now be advanced on the subject. It is, however, evident, that the present fairies of Ireland, if not Gothic creations, were at least modelled in the same school and age with the elves of northern Europe. (p.78.)

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A woman, who had been abstracted to nurse a young fairy, during her residence amongst the supernatural community, accidentally anointed one of her eyes with a substance entrusted to her for the use of her infant charge. On being emancipated from captivity, the “good people” still remained visible to the eye which had been touched by the magic ointment, and hence she daily beheld them engaged (like the sylphs in Pope’s Rape of the Lock) in their various fairy avocations. The woman, however, remained a silent spectator, until, happening to recognise, sporting amongst others, the fairy child whom she had nursed, in all the delicate bloom and beauty of unearthly youth, her prudence forsook her, and, at the sight, she was betrayed by her feelings into an exclamation of delight; on hearing which, the young fairy approached his nurse, and inquired by what means she was conscious of his presence. - She pointed to the anointed eye, into which he instantly darted a spear that he held in his hand, and thus, by destroying the organ, shut out for ever the secrets of the invisible world from the mortal eye to which they had been revealed.  When a child appears delicate, or a young woman consumptive, the conclusion is, that they are carried off to be made a playmate or nurse to the young fairies, and that a substitute, resembling the person taken away, is deposited in their place, which gradually declines, and ultimately dies. The inhuman means used by ignorant parents to discover if an unhealthy child be their offspring or a changeling,* (the name given to the [85] illusitory image,) is, placing the child, undressed, on the road side, where it is suffered to lie a considerable time exposed to cold. After such ceremony, they conclude a natural disorder has caused the symptoms of decay; and the child is then treated with more tenderness, from an idea, that had it been possessed by a fairy, that spirit would not have brooked such indignity, but made its escape. Paralytic affections are attributed to the same agency, whence the term “fairy struck;” and the same cruel treatment is observed towards aged persons thus afflicted.’ (pp.85-86; *footnote on changeling quotes Spenser’s Faerie Queene, Bk. I: ‘From thence a fairy thee unweeting reft, / There as thou slepst in tender swadling band, / And her base elfin brood there, for thee left: Such, men do changelings call, so chang’d by fairies theft’; idem.) [Cont.]

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[...] On the whole, from what may be collected, the present state of Irish superstition closely resembles that of England during the age of Elizabeth; a strong proof of the correct measurement of those who have stated a space of two centuries to exist between the relative degree of popular knowledge and civilization attained by the sister kingdom.’ (p.99; end Chap. V.)

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‘[...] Crossing the Ballyhoura mountains towards Doneraile, the huts of the peasantry had so cheerless and deplorable an aspect as to awaken a thousand painful ideas. In the smoke and dirt of an Irish cabin, there is a great and positive want of comfort; yet, on observing the neglected means by which the labouring classes might improve their condition, it would almost lead to the belief that they {102} are happier in their own way than they could be made by any innovation. Much censure has been thrown upon absentee landholders, whom I will not vindicate; but there seems to be an inherent spirit of indolence and obstinacy in the lower order of Irish, which even the presence of their lord would with difficulty overcome, that thus enables them to live without any apparent notion of comfort or even common decency. They seem indeed to feel some degree of pride in being destitute of wants, and evidently prefer the exclusion of light from their dwellings. When a window of a foot square has been made by their landlord, they usually close it up with turf, boards, or rags, leaving perhaps a strip of an inch broad; in many instances it is closed entirely, and the only light admitted is by the door, to which the women bring their needle work or spinning, on rare occasions of industry when they can forsake the fascinating smoke of their turf fires. They are consequently exposed to the weather, and have to rise whenever any inmate requires to pass, or when the pig (who considers himself lord of the mansion) chooses to alter his position; but “it just does well enough sure - it answered our fathers before us why.” They will even defend the filthy practice of having these animals constantly in their dwellings. I recollect once trying to convince a man that he might with very little trouble improve the state of his cabin, by building a shed for his pig and banishing him the chimney corner; but he coolly answered, “Sure then and who has a better right to be in it? Isn’t he the man of the house? and isn’t it he that will pay the rent?” ’ (pp.102-03 [chap. VI]; see full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics”, via index, or direct.]

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‘The rough and honest independence of the English cottager speaks the freedom he has so long enjoyed, and when really injured his appeal to the laws for redress and protection marks their impartial and just administration: the witty servillity of the Irish peasantry, mingled with occasional bursts of desperation and revenge - the devoted yet visionary patriotism - the romantic sense of honour, and improvident yet unalterable attachments, are evidence of a conquest without system, an irregular government, and the remains of feudal clanship, the barbarous and arbitrary organisation of a warlike people.;[...] Crossing the Ballyhoura mountains towards Doneraile, the huts of the peasantry had so cheerless and deplorable an aspect as to awaken a thousand painful ideas. In the smoke and dirt of an Irish cabin, there is a great and positive want of comfort; yet, on observing the neglected means by which the labouring classes might improve their condition, it would almost lead to the belief that they {102} are happier in their own way than they could be made by any innovation. Much censure has been thrown upon absentee landholders, whom I will not vindicate; but there seems to be an inherent spirit of indolence and obstinacy in the lower order of Irish, which even the presence of their lord would with difficulty overcome, that thus enables them to live without any apparent notion of comfort or even common decency. They seem indeed to feel some degree of pride in being destitute of wants, and evidently prefer the exclusion of light from their dwellings. When a window of a foot square has been made by their landlord, they usually close it up with turf, boards, or rags, leaving perhaps a strip of an inch broad; in many instances it is closed entirely, and the only light admitted is by the door, to which the women bring their needle work or spinning, on rare occasions of industry when they can forsake the fascinating smoke of their turf fires. They are consequently exposed to the weather, and have to rise whenever any inmate requires to pass, or when the pig (who considers himself lord of the mansion) chooses to alter his position; but “it just does well enough sure - it answered our fathers before us why.” They will even defend the filthy practice of having these animals constantly in their dwellings. I recollect once trying to convince a man that he might with very little trouble improve the state of his cabin, by building a shed for his pig and banishing him the chimney corner; but he coolly answered, “Sure then and who has a better right to be in it? Isn’t he the man of the house? and isn’t it he that will pay the rent?” ’ (pp.102-03 [chap. VI].)

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‘The rough and honest independence of the English cottager speaks the freedom he has so long enjoyed, and when really injured his appeal to the laws for redress and protection marks their impartial and just administration: the witty servillity of the Irish peasantry, mingled with occasional bursts of desperation and revenge - the devoted yet visionary patriotism - the romantic sense of honour, and improvident yet unalterable attachments, are evidence of a conquest without system, an irregular government, and the remains of feudal clanship, the barbarous and arbitrary organisation of a warlike people. ;[Some of the foregoing quoted on Conrad Bladey, Irish Potato Famine Commemoration Page [online; accessed March 1997; defunct. 12.11.2010].

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