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A description of Ireland: A.D. 1618

Author: Thomas Gainsford

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Luke McInerney

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Funded by University College Cork.

1. First draft.

Extent of text: 3360 words


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Text ID Number: E610006


Available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of academic research and teaching only. CELT is very grateful to Luke McInerney and the editor of 'The Other Clare', Ristéard Ua Cróinín, for their permission to make this text available with modernized spelling on CELT.


    Internet Links
  1. Luke McInerney has a webpage with further articles (including the full text of this one) on
  2. You will find the website of the journal The Other Clare at
  1. Thomas Gainsford, 'A description of Ireland: A.D. 1618', in: The Glory of England, or a true Description of many excellent Prerogatives and remarkable Blessings whereby she triumpheth over all the Nations of the World (London: E. Griffin for E. Whittakers) 1618. [Revised 1619, re-issued 1620].
  1. John Dymmok, 'A treatice of Ireland. Edited by Richard Butler', Tracts relating to Ireland 2, 1–90, Irish Archaeological Society (Dublin 1843). (Available on CELT).
  2. Sir Josias Bodley, A Visit to Lecale, in the County of Down, in the year 1602–3 (=Descriptio Itineris ad Lecaliam in Ultonia), ed. and trans. by William Reeves, Ulster Journal of Archaeology 1854, vol. ii, 73–99. (Available on CELT).
  3. Thomas Gainsford, The True Exemplary and Remarkable History of the Earl of Tirone: dedicated to the Earl of Clanricarde; of no great value, but interesting as a nearly contemporary record (London 1619).
  4. William Lithgow, Rare Adventures in Ireland in 1619, in: William Lithgow, The totall discourse of the rare adventures & painefull peregrinations of long nineteene years travayles from Scotland to the most famous Kingdomes in Europe, Asia and Affrica. 1606. Reprinted 1632.
  5. Fynes Moryson, An Itinerary: containing his ten yeeres travell through the Twelve Dominions of Germany, Bohmerland, Sweitzerland, Netherland, Denmarke, Poland, Italy, Turky, France, England, Scotland and Ireland (London 1617, repr. 4 vols. Glasgow 1907–8).
  6. Edmund Hogan (ed.), The Description of Ireland, and the State thereof as it is at this present, in anno 1598 (Dublin 1878).
  7. Fynes Moryson, A history of Ireland from the year 1599 to 1603 (2 vols. Dublin 1735).
  8. Philip O'Sullivan-Beare, Historiae catholicae Iberniae compendium (Lisbon 1621).
  9. George Carew, A discourse of the present state of Ireland, 1614, per S. C., in: Desiderata Curiosa Hibernica: or a select collection of State Papers, vol. 1 (Dublin 1772) 430–440. (Available on CELT).
  10. M. J. Byrne, Ireland under Elizabeth (Dublin 1903) [An English translation of Philip O'Sullivan Beare, Historiae Catholicae Iberniae Compendium. Available on CELT]
  11. William Camden, Annales rerum anglicarum et hibernicarum regnante Elizabetha (Leiden 1625).
  12. Paul Walsh (ed &trans.), Beatha Aodha Ruaidh Uí Dhomhnaill, as Leabhar Lughaidh Uí Chlérigh [The Life of Aodh Ruadh O Domhnaill from the book of Lughaidh Ó Clérigh], 2 vols. (Dublin 1948). (Available on CELT).
  13. Constantia Maxwell, The stranger in Ireland: from the reign of Elizabeth to the Great Famine (London 1954).
  14. Mark Eccles, 'Thomas Gainsford, 'Captain Pamphlet'', Huntington Library Quarterly Vol. 45, No. 4 (Autumn 1982) 259–270.
  15. Andrew Hadfield and John McVeagh (eds.), Strangers to that land: British perceptions of Ireland from the reformation to the famine. Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire 1994.
  16. Dagmar Ó Riain-Raedel, A German visitor to Monaincha in 1591, Tipperary Historical Journal (1998) 223–233. (The diary of German nobleman Ludolf von Münchhausen describing the Island of the Living is availbe at CELT.)
  17. Nicholas Canny, (ed), Making Ireland British, 1580–1650 (Oxford 2001).
  18. John A. Murphy and Emer Purcell, The Desmond Survey. Electronic edition online at (Cork 2009).
    The edition used in the digital edition
  1. Luke McInerney, A description of Ireland: A.D. 1618 in The Other Clare. , Shannon, The Shannon Archaeological & Historical Society (2012) volume 36page 33–37: 35–37


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The electronic edition covers the appendix of the article on pages 35–37 of the text.

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Text has been proof-read by the editor, Luke McInerney.


The electronic text represents the edited text. The spelling has been modernized by the editor.


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Created: by Thomas Gainsford (1566–1624) (1618)

Use of language

Language: [EN] The text is in seventeenth-century English.
Language: [LA] Some words are in Latin.
Language: [GA] Some words are in Irish, albeit in anglicized form.

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Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition: E610006

A description of Ireland: A.D. 1618: Author: Thomas Gainsford


¶1] The country and kingdom of Ireland is generally for natural air and, commodity of blessings, sufficient to satisfy a couetous or curious appetite: but withal divided into such fastness of mountain, bogg, and wood, that it hath emboldened the inhabitants to presume on hereditary securitie as if disobedience had a protection. For the mountains deny any carriages but by great industry and strength of men (so have we drawn the canon over the deepest bogs and stoniest hills) and the passages are every way dangerous, both for unfirmness of ground, and the lurking rebel, who will plash down whole trees over the passes and so intricately wind them, or lay them, that they shall be a strong barricade, and then lurk in ambush amongst the standing wood, playing upon all comers, as they intend to go along. On the bog they likewise presume with a naked celerity to come as near our foot and horse, as is possible, and then fly off again, knowing we cannot, or indeed dare not follow them: and thus they serve us in the narrow entrances into their glens; and stony paths, or if you will, dangerous quagmires of their mountains, where 100 shot shall rebate the hasty approach of 500; and a few muskets (if they durst carry any) well placed, will stagger a pretty army; not acquainted with the terror, or unpreventing the mischief.

¶2] The province of Leinster is more orderly than the rest, as being reasonable well inhabited, and having some form of a Commonwealth; so that I find no mistake either for delight or profit, but that the want of wood abridgeth their computation of happiness; yet questionless was the principal cause of our reducing them to civility, and the place wherein we first settled many English families. Some unite, and some divide the Kingdom of Meth from Leinster, and make it a province of itself, containing East Meth; West Meth and Longford, wherein O Roorck is resident, supposing himself the greatest Gentleman in the world; yea contesting many times with O Neal, however with much ado he afforded him precedency: The country is very fruitful and pleasant, not so mountainous, but ill inhabited; For the wars, and their own bestiality, have not only made a separation of all good order, but even terrified both beast and fowl from commorance among them in many places.


¶3] The province Munster hath some Towns well advanced by the sea coasts, and many excellent harbours, wherein Ireland may boast over all countries of Europe: The grounds adjacent are very fertile, and in many places affords cause of ostentation but more inward they are very barren and mountainous, full of bogs, woods, and other remote places, whose fastness hath incited the people to over great presumption: yet because of the spaciousness with men desiring good order, it might be reduced and reformed, as enjoying plentiful and sweet rivers, full of fish, and some of sufficient depth to transport reasonable boats into the land.

¶4] The province of Conach is divided from the rest by a goodly river called the Shannon being as I take it the greatest of any island in the world: For it stretches a course of 200 miles, and filleth his channel along the shores of Longford, Meths, Ormond, Limerick and Kerry, yet serveth them in no great stead: For their shipping cometh no further, than Limerick where it is five mile broad fresh water, and 60 mile from the main sea, from thence small cotts, as they term their boats, carry their wood, turf, fish and other commodities: but for fish, as Salmon, Bream, Pike and divers other sorts, I shall not be believed to relate their numbers, and hugeness by such as are enemies to observation, or the belief of the blessings of other countries. Within 20 miles of Limerick, as I take it a little beyond, the precinct of Caher-castle, a strange rock hath taken her lodging even cross the river and filleth the room in such a manner that almost the navigation is hindered thereby but what cannot men and money do? And why should not the idle people be industriously employed to remove the same, and so free the passage to Athlone: As for an objection of impossibility; the judgement of men hath yielded to survey, and many examples have confirmed the effects of more laborious attempts. The fourth part, namely Tomond (for by reason of the rivers interposing itself I see no reason why it should be disjointed from Conach) with Galway and Clanricard is very stony, full of marble, alabaster, and iett, and hath better order both for number and good buildings in their castles, than in other parts of Ireland: The north from Athlone, to the Abbey of Aboile, and so beyond the Curlews as far as Sligo, is of excellent temperature and goodness: These Curlews are mountains full of dangerous passages, especially when the Kern take a stomach and pride to enter into action, as they term their rebellion and tumultuary insurrection. On the other side of the County of Mayo consorteth with the pleasingest place in the Kingdom, by whose beaten banks lie those famous islands of Life, of whom a ridiculous tale is fathered, that nothing dies in them, so that when the inhabitants grow old, they are carried elsewhere, which custom they have of late superstitiously observed both in these islands of Aran, and some other adjoining of the same condition, as they suppose.

¶5] The province of Ulster, and called the North is very large, and withal mountains; full of great loughs of freshwater, except Lough Cone, which ebbeth and floweth, as the sea shouldeth aside the straight at Strangford, and with that violence at the ebb, that a ship under sail with a reasonable gale of wind cannot enter against the tide. These lake's nature hath appointed in steed of rivers, and stored with fish, especially Trout, and Pike, of such strange proportion, that if I should tell you of a Trout taken up in Tyrone 46 inches long, and presented to the Lord Mountjoy, then Deputy: you would demand, whether I was oculatus testis; and I answer, I eat my part of it, and I take it both my Lord Danvers and Sir William Goodolphin were at the table, and worthy Sir Iosias Bodley hath the portraiture depicted in plano. Here are no towns, or at least very few, but divers Castles dispersed, and the inhabitants remove their cabins, as their cattle change pasture, somewhat like the Tartarians, except in times of war, and troubles, then do they retire under the couett [cover?] of castles, and order their houses wound with rods, and covered with turfs, as well as they can, bringing their cattle even within their houses, lying altogether in one room both to prevent robberies of Kern, and spoiled by wolves. Amongst these every country is subject to the Law Tanist which is, he which is best able to maintain the reputation of their families, is the great O, and commander.

¶6] Through the Kingdom generally the winter is neither so cold, nor the summer so hot as in England, by reason whereof harvest is very late, and in the north wheat will not quickly ripen, nor have they acorns once in a dozen year: their principal corn is oates, which are commonly burnt out of the straw, and they then trod from the husks with men's feet; of this they made their bread in cakes, being first ground by calliots and drudges very naked, and beastly sitting on the ground, with the mill like our mustard quernes between their legs, and then upon broad iron press they bake the meal when it is needed; which custom they best observe in Munster with their chiefest corn. The continual showers and mists make the country more dangerous to our nation, debarring the absolute assurance of wholesome air; and the consequent health: seldom any frost continues or snow, lieth long, but on the mountains; in which are great store of deer both red and sallow. The abundance of wolves compels them to house their cattle in the bawns of their castles, where all the winter nights they stand up to the bellies in dirt: another reason is to prevent thieves, and false-hearted brethren, who have spies abroad, and will come 30 mile out of one province into another to practice a cunning robbery; the people are generally haters of bondage, and beyond measure proud: so that the younger brothers, and bastards, who are dear as the other, scorn all endeavours, but liberty and war. The gentlewomen stomach, and in truth vilipend others, who get their living by trade, merchandise, or mechanically; yet are divers [en]gravers in gold and silver, called plain tinkers, who make their chalices, harps, buttons for their sleeves, crucifixes, and such like, in estimation amongst them. Their noblemen, or Lords called Dynastas, are known by O and Mac, and every family hath such minister of justice to the people, famoused by the title of Breahans, and yet the exactions over their tenants by way of cuttings, and other terrible impositions, have caused divers rebellions and insurrections amongst themselves, which when the State hath attempted to reform, then have they stood on their guard, and taken indirect occasions to condemn our usurpation, whereby their odious and hateful repinings, like a monstrous cloth, have made their disobedience loathsome, and brought upon them such miseries, as a calamitous war and angry prince inflicted turbulent people withal. These families have also such, as by way of history elate them to exorbitant actions, joining withal abuse of Poetry, and deceit of Physic, known by the name of Bardes, on whom depend certain harpers, rhymers, and whom Priests, which live in a kindred, the father instructing the son, or brother, and he his cousin or friend. The name Galliglass is in a manner extinct, but of Kerne in great reputation as serving them in their revolts, and proving sufficient soldiers, but excellent for skirmish. They have strong and able bodies, proud hearts, pestilent wits, liberal of life, subject to incontinency, amorous, wherein their women are extraordinarily pleased, patient to endure, lovers of music and hospitality, constant to their maintainers, whether men or women, implacable in their hatred, light of belief, covetous of glory, impatient of reproach, or contumely not thinking it yet any disgrace to receive a nickname at their christening, as Con O Neale Banco, because he was lame. Besides, they are all extremely superstitious, as indeed barbarous people are best observers of ceremonies, and when any of them enters into religion, it is admirable with what austerity they reform themselves: Their children are nursed abroad, and their foster fathers and foster mothers are as dear to them as their own kindred: They use incantations and spells, wearing girdles of women's hair and locks of your lovers; they suppose idleness a glory of nature, and by their sluttish, or rather savage customs, strive to scorn (as they say) our superfluity: they are ready upon any enforcement by the impostering Art of their Bardes to innovation, as envying our first conquest, and stomaching they were never able to expel us: They are desperate in revenge, and their Kerne think no man dead, until his head be off. They suppose theft no great offence, as imitating the Lacedemonians; for they pray to prosper in their attempts: but these be commonly the bastards of Priests, who prove nitrous villains, and daughters either beg or became strumpets, or if you will, beggarly strumpets. They commonly intermix oaths with their speeches, as by the Trinity, God, his saints, St Patrick, St Bridget, faith and truth, the temple, your hand, O Neales hand, and such like. Their marriages are strange; for they are made sometimes so conditionally, that upon a slight occasion the man taketh another wife, the wife another husband. They are easily delivered of their children [I have known of them delivered in the morning and march along with us the same day] and if they have any by divers men, at their deaths they resign them to the right father; the new married and conceived with child giveth


the Barde her best clothes. They have soft and excellent skins and hands; but the small of their legs hangeth in a manner over their brogs: Their apparel is a mantle to sleep in, and that on the ground or some rushes or flags: a thick gathered smock with wide sleeves graced with bracelets and crucifixes about their necks: They wear linen rowels about their heads of divers fashions: in Ulster carelessly wound about: In Conach like Bishop's mitres, a very stately attire, and once prohibited by statute: in Munster resembling a thick Cheshire Cheese. Their smocks are saffroned against vermin; for they wear them three months together: but to be lowsie is hereditary with the best of them, and no disgrace. But men and women not long since accustomed a savage manner of diet, which was raw flesh, drinking the blood, now they seeth it, and quaff up the liquor, and then take Vsquebath: not having flesh they feed on watercresses and shamrocks and bonniclaboch, which is milk strangely put into a tub a souring, till it be clotted, and curdled together: When the cow will not let her milk down they blow her behind very strangely, and sometimes thrust up their arms to their elbows, speaking words of gentleness and intreaty by way of bemoaning. The men wear trousers, mantle, and a cap of steel; they are curious about their horses tending to witchcraft; they have not saddles but strange fashioned pads, their horses are for the most part unshod behind: they use axes, staves, broad swords and darts: In Terconnell the hair of their heads grows so long and curled, that they go bear-headed, and are called Glibs, the women Glibbins. These and many other do the mere Irish observe with resolution and our wonderment not to be diverted, as if the Poet should find fault with: Quo semel est imbuta recens seruabit odorem Testa diu.’’

Horace, epist. 1.2. 69-70.

And thus much for Topography or superficial view of the kingdoms of the world.