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A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland [...] (Author: Thomas Campbell)

Letter 13


September 8th, 1775.

On leaving Kilkenny, I was in doubt whether I should make my route by Waterford; it being a very thriving city, with the finest Quay in Ireland. But, the season being so far advanced, Cork, Limerick, and Galway, must suffice for the great cities. From them I hope to acquire some idea of the state of trade; and, by making this zigzag through the midland region, I shall have a better opportunity of noting indigenal manners, and the unmixed influence of the pastoral life.

I breakfasted at Callen, which withstood Cromwell's united forces for some days in 1649, now a poor dirty town, interspersed with the numerous ruins of old castles and religious houses. The prevalence of interest, in this paltry borough, has been long contested both in the courts of law, and in the fields of honour. They cross the seas to dispatch each other, by the pistol or the sword. The feud is become hereditary,


and not likely to be extinguished by the death of one of the principals.

Duelling, it is argued, may in some cases be considered as a necessary evil; but if its tendency be to refine manners, the frequency of it, in this kingdom, is a certain sign of imperfect civilization. The contagion of it infects all ranks.

The first place I stopped at in the province of Munster, was a little village called Killynaul; where the country assumed a very different appearance from what I had before observed. The inauspicious operation of pasturage became, however, visible before I left Leinster. For ten or twelve miles on this side of Kilkenny, the soil was far from rich, it was rather indeed poor; yet it was pretty well cultivated, the fields were enclosed with hedges and ditches, and the country embellished with houses and plantations. But, as the ground improves, on approaching the borders of Munster, agriculture ceases, and not a house, not a hedge, not a ditch is to be seen. The country is abdicated by the human species, and peopled with sheep.


Nor was the change less evident in the manners of the people. There was nothing in them, however, that could remind you of the golden age; no resemblance of that simplicity attributed by poets to the shepherd state; nothing like that surly awkwardness of our English clowns, who have one general answer, I dont know, to almost every question a stranger asks. These peasants have no sheepishness about them, are under no embarrassment when you speak to them, seem never at a loss, but are blessed with an abrupt and sudden promptitude of reply.

It may not, perhaps, be difficult to account for this obvious contrast. Our peasantry, intent upon their own proper affairs, are not at the expence of thinking upon other subjects; whereas these poor men, having neither labour nor trade to engage their attention, are more occupied with other people's affairs than their own; excussi propriis aliena negotia curant.6

In ridicule of their passion for news, my companion Spencer tells the following story, ‘A Frenchman, who having been


sometime in Ireland, and there marked their great enquiry for news, and meeting afterwards in France an Irishman, whom he knew in Ireland, first saluted him, and afterwards said merrily, O, Sir, pray you tell me of courtesy, have you heard any thing of the news, that you so much inquired for in your country?’

It is not necessary to assign so many causes, for this vain curiosity, as Spencer does; for idleness comprizes them all. Wherever a people have but little employment, and have, at the same time, quick and lively imaginations, they will of course be garrulous and inquisitive. The very same property, we find St. Paul ascribing to the Athenians, ‘who, spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or hear something new.’

My host was very courteous, for on my declining to go into his house, the exterior of which was not very inviting, and on telling him that I only meant to feed my horses; he replied with an air of frankness and civility: ‘Ah! by my shoul, you're welcome to the best room in my house,


suppose you neither eat nor drink.’ I then stepped in, and he became not less communicative than he was inquisitive. He supposed that I was a lawyer, and that I came from Dublin; and seemed astonished that I knew so little of the country, and that I never had been there before.

Upon my supposing, in my turn, that the clear fire before me was of Kilkenny coal, his answer was somewhat indignant, yet fraught with information. ‘Arrah no! my dear jewel, for by Shasus we have as good coal as Kilkenny ourselves, ay and better too. The devil an inch you rode today but upon coal pits. Sure it is we that serve all Munster with coals, and Connaught too. Did not the Dutch Boors offer to their countryman, king William, that, if he would let them live by the laws of Holland, that they would make meadow ground of the whole bog of Allen, and carry the coals of Killinaul, through their canals, all over Ireland, ay and England too. For you see, that our coal is the hottest coal in the universe, and the only coal for drying malt with, because it has no


smoke, and therefore gives the beer neither taste nor smell.’

He then touched upon the affair of the White-boys, to whom he was no friend. He said they had been in that town the very night before. You have heard of these banditti. I am not yet in possession of the true state of their case. For it is so variously represented in this country, that one must listen with attention, and assent with caution. But the whole country round Killinaul bears upon the very face of it, an evident and sufficient cause for their insurgency; if insurgency it may be called, where each housekeeper disclaims all connection with the wretches concerned.

Cashel is a good town, but a poor city; it consists, as I guess, of between five and six hundred houses, some of which are very decent, and look as if inhabited by persons of condition. It must have been formerly a place of the first consequence in Ireland, for here Henry II. held a synod.

There is somewhat still venerable in the ruins of the churches and monasteries in


this ancient city. Quocunque ingredimur in aliquam historiam vestigium ponimus.’’

Cicero, De Finibus 5,5: quacumque enim ingredimur, in aliqua historia vestigium ponimus [retrieved from ].

The sight of the cathedral alone is a full compensation for the loss I may have sustained in passing by Waterford. It is at once the largest and most ancient in the kingdom. I took a perspective of it this morning, from a room in the Archbishop's house. It is, as you see, built upon a rock, and the whole is usually called the Rock of Cashel.

The dimension of the nave and choir, from east to west, is about 200 feet, as I computed by stepping through nettles, and over-tumbling fragments of stone and mortar. The steeple is in the centre of the cross; near the east angle of the north ile is a round tower, to which leads a subterraneous passage from the church. Tradition says it is the oldest structure upon the rock, which seems more than probable from a trifling circumstance; all the buildings upon the rock, which is limestone or marble, are built of the same material, except the tower, which is of freestone. It may, therefore, be at least presumed, that the practice of quarrying was not then very common.


Sir James Ware says, this cathedral was built, about the time of the arrival of the English under Henry II.; but a learned clergyman, whom I met in Dublin, assures me, that in this the knight was mistaken; for it appears from an inquisition made in the second of Henry IV. that the donation of certain lands, by the founder Donald O'Brien, was confirmed by letters patent of king John. Now Donald was brother to Morough More, king of Munster, A. D. 1086, and this authentic record is to be seen Rot. Pat. ii. T. i. 3 pt. D.

Cormac's chapel, which you may observe in the angle, on the south of the choir, is near two centuries older than the church for Cormac was king of Munster A. D. 901: This chapel, fifty feet by eighteen in the clear, is a very curious structure, and of a style totally different from the church. Both on the outside and inside, are columns over columns, better proportioned than one could expect, from either the place or the time. The cieling is vaulted, and the outside of the roof is corbeled so as to form a pediment pitch. At the angles of the east end


are two small towers, one of which you may distinguish in my sketch.

It may not be unworthy observation, that the chapel is not parallel to the church, as it tends to confirm the greater antiquity of the chapel; for had the church been the older building, it is probable they would have accommodated the chapel to it, though, on the contrary, they would not have adapted the church to the chapel. As the first builders of churches were religiously exact in placing them due east and west, the deviation of the chapel from the true line, we may presume, was corrected in the church.

If we could be certain that due attention was given to the meridian, at founding each of these structures, then the want of parallelism7 in them would become a datum for ascertaining the difference of their


dates. For we know that the equinoxes move in antecedentia, one degree in seventy-two years; therefore, by turning the angle, which these two buildings make with each other, into years, we have the interval between their respective foundations.

If this angle, the measurement of which I leave to some future traveller, be three degrees, it would answer nearly to the supposed difference. But the angle was apparently much greater; say nine degrees, and then it will bring the foundation of the chapel, to the middle of the fifth century. And it is more than probable that it was erected by Cormac, upon the very foundation of that church, originally built here by St. Patrick.

That there was an edifice of lime and stone here in the fifth century, Colonel Vallancey shews to be highly credible; for the name of the place is mentioned in the acts of the life of St. Patrick, and that name, Cas-iol, signifies literally a house of lime and stone. As this was the seat of the kings of Munster, we may naturally suppose, that the castle upon the rock was their residence, before the introduction of


Christianity, as it continued to be after, Cormac was not only king, but Archbishop. Rex Anius, rex idem hominum Phoebique sacerdos.

Having now given you, Doctor, a full dose of learned disquisition, I shall conclude this epistle, with the quaint epitaph of an Archbishop of Cashel, who was a great favourite of queen Elizabeth. Bedrid for two years before his death, which happened in his hundredth year, he had the inscription deeply cut on a plate over his monument; which is placed on a high basis in the south side of the choir, with his effigy in alto relievo.

Mileri Magrath Archiepiscopi Casheliensis ad viatorem carmen.
  1. Venerat in Dunum primo sanctissimus olim
    Patricius, nostri gloria magna soli.
    Huic ego succedens, utinam tam sanctus ut ille.
    Sic Duni primo tempore praesul eram.
    Anglia, lustra decem, sed post, tua sceptra colebam,
    Principibus placui, marte tonante, tuis.
    Hic, ubi sum positus, non sum, sum ubi non sum;
    Sum nec in ambobus, sum sed utroque loco.
    Dominus est qui me judicat.
    Qui stat caveat ne cadat.