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

Letter 20


This is a city large and extensive, beyond my expectation. I had been taught to think worse of it, in all respects, than it deserves; it was described as the magazine of nastiness. And as it is the great shambles of the kingdom, I was predisposed to credit these reports; but it is really as clean, in general, as the metropolis. The slaughter-houses are all in the suburbs, and there, indeed, the gale is not untainted; but in the city, properly so called, all is tolerably clean, and consequently sweet. If sufficient care were taken, even the suburbs


might be purged of every thing offensive, either to the sight or smell; for they stand upon the declivity of hills, and down each street there is a copious flow of water, perpetually washing down the filth, from the door of each slaughter-house into the river, which surrounds the town. The city is situated, as Spencer graphically describes it, in his marriage of the Thames and Medway.
    1. The spreading Lee, that like an island fair,
      Encloseth Cork, with his divided flood.

This island is intersected with several canals, either natural or artificial, which, being banked and quayed in, bring up ships almost to every street. The city, however, is mostly composed of lanes, cutting the main streets at right angles, and so narrow, that one of them, which is but ten feet wide, is called Broad-lane. The houses are old, and far from being elegant in their appearance. On the new quays, indeed, there are some fair looking buildings; which they are obliged to weather slate. And this


they do in a manner so neat as to render it, almost, ornamental.

There are two large stone bridges, one to the north, and the other to the south, over the grand branches of the Lee, besides several small ones, and some draw-bridges thrown over the lesser branches or canals. There are seven churches, an exchange, a custom-house, a barrack, several hospitals, and other public structures, yet none of them worth a second look. I have not seen a single monument of antiquity in the whole town, nor heard a bell in any of the churches, too good for the dinner-bell of a country squire. But here is something infinitely better. Here is the busy bustle of prosperous trade, and all its concomitant blessings; here is a most magnificent temple, erected to plenty, in the midst of a marsh. For that it was originally such, if there were no other evidence, the very name imports: the word Cork or Corrach signifying palus or fen, as I learn from Lhuid's dictionary.

A bookseller here has put this, and other tracts into my hands, which have been useful to me in my researches. Smith's


history of Cork, quoting Stanihurst, reports that 120 years ago, Cork was but the third city in Munster, now it is the second in the kingdom, and therefore called the Bristol of Ireland.

Except in the article of linen, its exports are more considerable than those of Dublin. The balance of Trade, I should conceive, to be against Dublin, the trade of which, chiefly, consists in the importation of luxuries; whereas Cork deals almost entirely in exporting the necessaries of life, beef, pork, butter, hides, tallow, &c.

All the wealth of Munster and Connaught passes through two or three cities, which may be said to have eaten up the surrounding country, where the wretched peasant never tastes the flesh of the cattle which he feeds; but subsists upon potatoes, generally without butter, and sometimes without milk.

What proportion the trade of this city bears to that of Bristol, I have not data to form an estimate. If we were to judge from the richness of the shops, there is here a vast inferiority. In some other respects,


Cork appears to be the greater city. In 1754 the return of houses in Cork was 7445, in 1766 it was 8113; if we suppose them to have increased at the same rate since, they are now 8614. This is placing them low, for there are great numbers of the poor legally exempted from paying hearth-money; and it is not the interest of the collectors to exceed in their returns. In Bristol, and three miles round it, there are said to be but 9000 houses; if so, the houses in the city alone, are probably not so numerous as those of Cork.

In the reign of Edward IV. there were eleven churches in Cork; now there are but seven. Yet it has ever since that time been esteemed a thriving city, and in the memory of man it is said to have been doubled. But we have already seen that the state of population cannot be ascertained from the number of churches; if our ancestors had not more religion than we have, they were certainly more addicted to building religious houses.

To see the reason, why the number of churches has decreased with increasing population,


we should recollect, that in the time of Edward IV. they had but one religion, that now they have many; and that the catholics outnumber all other denominations, seven to one at least.

As the Romanists adhere religiously to all their old institutions, in the number and division of parishes, and as they have now but seven mass-houses in so large and populous a city, we may fairly suppose that there were no more parishes in Edward's time; though there might have been eleven churches, reckoning in that number the chapels belonging to the four monasteries, which were then in Cork, viz. St. Dominick's, St. Francis's, the Red Abbey, and the Cill Abbey.

It must too be observed, that though the monasteries are destroyed, the Monks remain to this day, and have regular service in their distinct houses, as in the parish mass-houses. In all of which they have a succession of services, on Sundays and holy-days, from early in the morning, till late at night, for the accommodation of their numerous votaries.


Beside these eleven mass-houses, there are four dissenting meeting-houses, belonging to Presbyterians, Anabaptists, Quakers, and French Protestants. The prevalence of the Popish interest in Cork, may be argued from the following trivial circumstance: bidding a fellow whom I had picked up for my ciceroni to conduct me from the cathedral to the bishop's house, he asked me which bishop? The same conclusion I drew at Kilkenny, from another trifle; I there heard the titular bishop greeted in the style of his dignity.

On Sunday morning early, I stepped into one of their mass-houses, and a spacious one it was. The priest had just finished the celebration of mass. On the altar stood six candles. A servitor came in, after the priest had withdrawn, and, kneeling before the altar, he entered the rails like those of our chancels; and, after kneeling again, he snuffed out two of the candles; then he kneeled again, and snuffed out two more; he kneeled a fourth time, and extinguished the fifth; the sixth he left burning.


There were several elegant carriages standing before the door when I entered, and a prodigious crowd of people in the street; as motley an assemblage of human creatures as I had ever seen. There was a multitude of beggars imploring alms in the Irish language, some in a high, and some in a low key. Some of them measured out tones as if singing; but in accents the most unmusical that ever wounded the human ear. They were worse than all the tones in Hogarth's Enraged Musician. ——If this be a bull, consider that I am in Ireland.

Had this Rabelais of the pencil introduced an Irish beggar, he would have set Pasquali mad. In the most perfect of human compositions, there is, you know, something still wanting to render it complete. Pity that the influence of a Cork mendicant should be wanting, to fill up the measure of discord, and thereby render one human production perfect.

Not content with what I saw at mass, I afterwards went to church, the steeple of which exactly answered Shakespear's description in sloping to its foundation: which


argues the fenny bottom, whereon it stands. I was, however, delighted with the contrast I found here. The service was, throughout, performed with the utmost decency and propriety; they had a good organ, and the singing was remarkably good. The embellishments of the church were neither rich, nor studied; but they were neat and plain; and the audience had, truly, as much the air of opulence and elegance, as most of the congregations in the city of London.

After service they generally betake themselves to a public walk, called the Mall; which is no more than a very ill-paved quay upon one of their canals, with a row of trees on one side, and houses on the other. It is a pleasure, however, to see that they are filling up this canal, and several others, where the water, having no current, must have become noxious to the air in hot weather. On a bridge, thrown over this canal, is an equestrian statue of his late Majesty, executed in bronze by an artist of Dublin. This with a pedestrian of Lord Chatham, of white marble, and


one in plaister of Paris, of king William III. in the Mayoralty-house, are the only statues in this large city.17

Is this street were well paved, and the Mall slagged, it would be as ornamental to the town, as agreeable to the ladies. There is another public walk, called the Redhouse walk, west of the city, cut through very low grounds, for a mile in length, planted on each side, where the lower fort walk and on leaving the Mall, I found it crowded with people, in general, very decently dressed.