Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Natural History of Ireland (Author: Gerard Boate)

chapter 1


Situation of Ireland.

Ireland, by the Irish themselves called Erin, and by their neighbours the Welsh, Yverdon, lieth in the north-west ocean, having on the west side no land nearer than America, or the West Indies, and thereof that part, which above Nova Francia and Canada running northward, hath of the English received the name of New Britain, but of other nations before of Terra Laboratoris. The next land over against it on the south is Galicia, one of the kingdoms of Spain, from which it lieth divided some days sailing. Northwards it hath the Scotish islands, by the geographers called Hebrides or Hebudes; the


principal of which are Eust, Lewis, Skye, Ila and Mula. On the east side is Great-Britain, and all the three parts of it, to wit part of Scotland, the whole west coast of England, and all Wales.

Distance betwixt Ireland and several places upon the coast of Great-Britain

The Sea, which parteth Ireland from Great-Britain, being of a very unequal breadth, is more narrow in the north end, less in the south end, but broad in the midst, as it washeth the English coast, being the full length of the two counties of Cumberland and Lancashire, opposite against which are situated in Ireland the counties of Down, Louth, and Dublin. The sea which is inclosed betwixt these counties, and compriseth in its middle the isle of Man, is well near of an equal and uniform breadth every where, not being in any place much broader or much narrower, than it is betwixt the havens of Dublin and Leverpole, the distance betwixt which two is reckoned by the English pilots to be of forty leagues, or sixscore English miles. But Wales in two or three places cometh a great deal nearer to Ireland, and in some as near again. For Holy-head, being the most westerly corner of the northerliest part of Wales, called Anglesey, lieth just half way between Dublin and Leverpole or Chester, being twenty leagues, or threescore miles, from Dublin, and ten or twelve hours sail with a reasonable good wind, which distance is no greater, than what the eye may very well reach, for a man whose sight is but of an ordinary goodness, may at any time in clear weather with ease discern the high and mountainous coast of Wales from the top of the Dublin mountains. And about the same distance, as is betwixt Dublin and Holy-head, is also betwixt St. Davis-head a promontory of Pembrookshire (which shire is situated in the most south west part of Wales) and the Irish promontory in the county of Wexford, which the natives call Cancarne, and the English seamen Tuskard-point. Also the promontory of Carnarvan in Wales, called Brachipult-point, and lying betwixt Holy-head and St. Davis, is well near at the same distance from the next Irish shore, as either of those other Welsh promontories. But between Brachipult-point and St. Davis-head the sea doth much enlarge it self (although nothing so much as betwixt Ireland and England) making a great inlet on the coast of Wales, the which here retireth it self a great way backwards whereas to the contrary the Irish shore, which lieth opposite to it, extendeth it self in an equal manner, without any great bays or inlets.

As for the north part, where Ireland and Scotland are neighbours, there this sea groweth very narrow, insomuch as Galloway, a county in that part of Scotland, is distant with its most westerly shore from the Ardes (a little country and demy-island so named in the most northerly part of the county of Down in Ireland) not above five leagues; which space the open boats, wherein they ordinarily here do pass from the one kingdom into the other, use to sail in three or four hours time and Cantyre, another foreland on the west shore of Scotland,


more to the north than Galloway, is nearer yet unto Ireland so that in these two places the one nation may perfectly be seen and discerned out of the other at all times, whensoever it is no very dark gloomy weather.

Shape and Bigness of Ireland.

The shape of this island is longways square, but not fully for to say nothing of several corners and forelands, which run out a great way into the sea, nor of divers great bays and inlets, which the sea maketh here and there, in the three other parts of this island, the fourth part, called Munster, doth greatly alter that figure; for in lieu of stretching it self first from the north to the south, and then from the south to the west, it runneth altogether sloping from the north east to the south west; and there besides it stretchest it self much further into the sea with its western shores, than any other part of Ireland on the same west side.

As for the bigness thereof, questionless it is to be reckon'd among the chief islands of the whole world, and of Europe the principallest of all, except only Great-Britain, the which is more than twice as big for being as long again, as it is broad, it is at the narrowest (which is just in the middle, where Dublin is situated) no less than an hundred miles broad, seeing that Athlone, which lieth just half way betwixt the two seas, is fifty miles distant from Dublin; and in Ulster, where Ireland is at its broadest, it is in most places ten, or twelve, and in some twenty miles broader. In the length, if from the middle of the northern coast one do go directly southward, one shall find it to be about two hundred miles. But if you shape your course more to the east, the length will be found less by some miles, because the coast of Munster runneth so sloping, as we have said before and to the contrary, if one measure the length of Ireland more to the west, it will be found to be a great deal more than two hundred miles. And if the measure were taken not through the inland parts, as now we have framed it, but all along the sea shore, the length would amount to a great deal more than what now we have declared (as well on the east as on the west side) in regard of the inequality of the coast, and of the great bays and forelands, which make it in most places very much run out to the seaward, or into the landward for which same reason the circuit of the whole island, taken alongst the shore, is by far greater, than otherwise the proportion of its length and breadth would seem to require. The miles here mentioned must be understood not of the common English ones, three whereof make one league, or Holland mile, but of the Irish, the which are about one fifth part bigger, so as five Irish miles do amount to about six English.


Division of Ireland into Provinces and Counties.

THIS island is divided into four principal parts, called provinces, viz. Ulster, Leinster, Connaught, and Munster, of which the first and the last extend themselves from the one sea to the other, Ulster in the north, and Munster in the south. Leinster and Connaught, lying betwixt those two forenamed provinces, have the sea only on one side, Connaught on the west, and Leinster on the east. To these four most writers and records add a fifth, called Meath, but that is really a part of Leinster, and ordinarily now is held to be such. Each of these provinces is again divided into divers counties. Ulster hath eleven, whereof six on the sea side, viz. Fermanagh Donegall alias Tirconnel, Colrain, Antrim, Down, Louth; and five within the land, viz. Cavan, Monaghan, Ardmagh, Nether-Tyrone, and Upper-Tyrone. Leinster comprehendeth likewise eleven counties, Dublin, Wicklow, and Wexford on the sea side, East-Meath, and Catherlogh or Carlo within the land, but with a little nook reaching unto the sea, West-Meath, Kildare, Kilkenny, King's-county, Queen's-county, and Longford altogether within the land. Munster is divided into six counties, two within the land, viz. Tipperary and Limerick, and the other four, Waterford, Cork, Desmond, and Kerry, situated on the sea side, but stretching themselves a great way into the land. In Connaught there be six counties, viz. Clare alias Tomond, Galloway, Mayo, and Slego, situated on the sea, and Roscommon, and Letrim within the land.

Of the ENGLISH Pale.

THERE is yet another division of Ireland, whereby the whole land is divided into two parts, The English Pale, and the land of the mere Irish. The English Pale comprehendeth only four counties, one whereof is in Ulster, viz. Louth, and the other three in Leinster, to wit Meath, Dublin, and Kildare, the original of which division is this. The English at the first conquest, under the reign of Henry II. having within a little time conquered great part of Ireland, did afterwards, in the space of not very many years, make themselves masters of almost all the rest, having expelled the natives (called the wild Irish, because that in all manner of wildness they may be compared with the most barbarous nations of the earth), into the desart woods and mountains. But afterwards being fallen at odds among themselves, and making several great wars the one upon the other, the Irish thereby got the opportunity to recover now this,


and then that part of Ireland, whereby, and through the degenerating of a great many from time to time, who joining themselves with the Irish, took upon them their wild fashions and their language, the English in length of time came to be much weakened, that at last nothing remained to them of the whole kingdom, worth the speaking of, but the great cities, and the forenamed four counties; to whom the name of Pale was given, because that the authority and government of the kings of England, and the English colonies or plantations, which before had been spread over the whole land, now were reduced to so small a compass, and as it were impaled within the same. And although since the beginning of this present age, and since king James's coming to the crown of England, the whole island was reduced under the obedience and government of the English laws, and replenished with English and Scotish colonies; nevertheless the name of English Pale, which in the old signification was now out of season, remained in use, and is still, even since this last bloody rebellion, wherein the inhabitants of almost all the Pale, although all of them of English descent, have conspired with the native Irish, for to shake off the government of the crown of England, and utterly to extinguish the reformed Religion, with all the professors thereof, and quite to root them out of Ireland.

Cities and chief towns of Ireland.

THIS island hath in it several cities, among which Dublin is the principal, being the chief city of the whole commonwealth, the residence of the governor, the council of state, all the great officers, the exchequer, judges, and courts of justice; being also adorn'd with an university, the only in all Ireland. It is situated in the province of Leinster, about the middle of the length of Ireland (as already hath been mentioned) not far from the Sea, an inlet whereof maketh a harbour for this city, which harbour, although none of the best of Ireland (whereof in the next chapter but one shall be spoken more at large) is nevertheless frequented with more ships, and hath greater importation of all things, than any other haven in the kingdom, by reason that all sorts of commodities are much more readily and in greater plenty vented here than any where else, what in the city it self, being great and populous, what into the country, for in the time of peace almost all Leinster and Ulster were wont to furnish themselves from Dublin of all kinds of provisions and necessaries, such as were brought in out of foreign countries.

Next to Dublin is Galloway, the head city of the province of Connaught to be reckon'd, as well for bigness and fairness, as for riches; for the streets are wide, and handsomely ordered, the houses for the most part built of free-stone; and the inhabitants much addicted to traffick, do greatly trade into other countries, especially into Spain, from whence they used to fetch great store of wines and other wares every year.

In the third place cometh Waterford, situated in the province of Munster; and in the fourth Limerick, the head city of the said province, both towns


of traffick, situated on goodly havens, and of reasonable bigness and handsomness.

Cork, in the province of Munster, and Londonderry, in the province of Ulster, are less than any of the forementioned, but otherwise handsome places, well built, and very fitly situated for traffick and navigation, as standing upon very good havens.

As for the rest of the towns, Drogheda, Kilkenny, and Bandonbridge are passable and worthy of some regard, both for bigness and handsomness: but Colrain, Knockfergus, Belfast, Dundalk, Wexford, Youghal, and Kinsale are of small moment, the best of all these being hardly comparable to any of those fair market towns, which are to be found in almost all parts of England. And as for Cassel, Rosse, Lismore, Clonmell, and Kilmallock in Munster; Slego and Athlone in Connaught, Mullingar, Trim, Kells, Navan, Athboy, Naas, Carlow, Arklow, and Wicklow in Leinster; Carlingford, Atherdee, and Down in Ulster, all of them walled towns, they are scarce worth the mentioning, because there are few market towns in England, even of the meanest, which are not as good or better, than the best of them all. We could give a more perfect relation of this particular, but because this serveth little to our purpose, and properly doth not concern the natural history, we have thought it best to touch it but briefly.