Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The History of Ireland (Author: Geoffrey Keating)

Section 7


John Barckly, writing on Ireland, says these words:— They build (says he, speaking of the Irish) frail cabins to the height of a man, where they themselves and their cattle abide in one dwelling. {Fragiles domos ad altitudinem hominis exitant, sibi pecorique communes.}’’

I think, seeing that this man stoops to afford information on the characteristics and on the habitations of peasants and wretched petty underlings, that, his being compared with the beetle is not unfitting, since he stoops in its fashion to give an account of the hovels of the poor, and of miserable people, and that he does not endeavour to make mention or narration concerning the palatial princely mansions of the earls and of the other nobles who are in Ireland. I consider also that the repute of an historian ought not to be given to him, nor to any body else who would follow his track in the same degree: and thus, with one word, I discard the witness of Fynes Moryson who wrote jeeringly on Ireland; for, though his pen was skilful for writing in English, I do not think that he intended by the power of the pen to disclose the truth, and so I do not consider that it is worth (while) giving him an answer. For, the historian who proposes to furnish a description of any people who may be in a country, ought to report their special character truthfully [on them], whether good or bad; and because that it was of set purpose, through evil and through a bad disposition (at the suggestion of other people, who had the same mind towards the Irish), he has left in oblivion,


without estimating the good qualities of the Irish, whereby he has abandoned the rule most necessary for an historian to preserve in his narrative, and therefore the status of history ought not to be accorded to his wrtiting. These are, indeed, the rules which should be most observed in writing history, according to Polydorus, in the first book he has written de rerum inventoribus, where he treats of the fittest rules for writing history: here is the first rule he sets down —That he should not dare to assert anything false. {Prima est, nequid falsi dicere audeat.}’’

The second rule:—That he should not dare to omit setting down every truth’’

: here are the author's words:—in order (says he) that there should be no mistrust of friendship or unfriendliness in the writing. {Deinde nequid veri dicere non audeat, neque suspitio gratiae sit in scribendo, neque simulatis.}’’

He says, moreover, in the same place, that the historian ought to explain the customs and way of life, the counsels, causes, resolves, acts, and development, whether good or bad, of every people who dwell in the country about which he has undertaken to write: and, inasmuch as Fynes Moryson, has omitted to notice anything good of the Irish, he has neglected to observe the aforesaid rules, and accordingly, the dignity of history cannot be allowed to his composition.

Whoever should determine to make a minute search for ill customs, or an investigation into the faults of inferior people, it would be easy to fill a book with them; for there is no country in the world without a rabble. Let us consider the rough folk of Scotland, the rabble-rout of Great Britain, and the plebians of Flanders, the insignificant fellows of France


the poor wretches of Spain, the ignoble caste of Italy, and the unfree tribe of every country besides, and a multitude of ill-conditioned evil ways will be found in them; howbeit, the entire country is not to be disparaged on their account. In like manner, if there are evil customs among part of the unfree clans of Ireland, all Irishmen are not to be reviled because of them, and whoever would do so, I do not think the credit of an historian should be given him; and since it is thus Fynes Moryson has acted, writing about the Irish, I think it is not allowable he should have the repute of an historian: and so I say also of Campion.

Camden says that it is usual in Ireland for the priests with their children and concubines to dwell in the churches, and to be drinking and feasting in them: and moreover, that it is a habit there to call the children of these clerics, son of the bishop, son of the abbot, son of the prior, and son of the priest. My answer to him here is, that the time the clergy of Ireland began that bad system was after the eighth Henry had changed his faith, and, even at that time and thenceforward, there did not practise that bad habit but such of them as followed their own lusts, and denied the lawful superiors who were set over them. Camden himself concurs with this reply, where he says, speaking of Ireland:— Whoever among them (says he) give themselves to a religious life, restrain themselves even to miracle in a condition of austerity, governed by rule, watching, praying, and fasting for their mortification. {Si qui religioni se consecrant, religiosa quadam austeritate ad miraculum usque se continent, vigilando, orando, et jejuniis se macerando.}’’

Here is what Cambrensis says in the twenty-seventh chapter, speaking also of the clergy of


Ireland:— The clergy of this land (says he, speaking of Ireland) are abundantly commendable as to the religious life, and amongst every other virtue which they possess, their chastity excels all the other virtues. {Est autem terrae illius clerus satis religione commendabilis, et inter varias quibus pollet virtutes, castitatis praerogativa praeeminet atque praecellit.}’’

From this it may be understood that chastity prevailed among the clergy of Ireland in Cambrensis' time: and, moreover, it may be inferred from this, that it is not everybody of the clergy of Ireland who followed that evil custom, but only the lustful set who broke their obligation, and went schismatically in disobedience to their ecclesiastical superiors. Stanihurst agrees with this thing in the narrative which he wrote concerning Ireland, in the year of the Lord one thousand five hundred and eighty-four. Here is what he says:— The most part of the Irish (says he) have great regard for devotion or the religious state. {Hibernici etiam magna ex parte sunt religionis summe colentes.}’’

From this it may be understood that that bad practice which Camden mentions was not common in Ireland, except only among the clergy who rejected their obligation as we have said above.

Camden says that the marriage bond is not strictly observed in Ireland, outside of the great towns: however, this is not true for him, and casts great discredit on the true aristocracy of Ireland, both native and foreign, because that it is in the country they mostly reside. Howbeit, I say not that there be not some of them lustful, as there be in every country, those who are not obedient to their ecclesiastical superiors: and, accordingly, it is unjust for Camden to charge this offence, rarely occurring, as a reproach against the Irish who reside in the rural districts. For, if there were one or


two, or a few, of them unruly, the inhabitants of the entire country should not be censured because of these: and, consequently, it is not fair of Camden to say that marriage is seldom regarded among the Irish, except among the people of the large towns and cities: and as for the folk who say that a marriage contract for a year is customary in Ireland, it is certain that it was never practised there, but by misguided people who were not submissive to their ecclesiastical superiors, and, for that reason, a general reproach should not be flung at the Irish because a few indocile unrestrained individuals practise this.

Campion says, in the sixth chapter of the first book of his narrative, that the Irish are so credulous, in a manner, that they will regard as truth whatever their superior may say, however incredible, and he propounds a dull fabulous tale in support of this. That is to say, that there was a greedy prelate in Ireland who was capable of imposing on his people anything he might say, and, being straitened for money, and in hope that he might obtain assistance from them, he made known to them that, within a few years, Patrick and Peter had been contending with each other concerning an Irish 'galloglass' whom Patrick wanted to have admitted into the kingdom of Heaven, and that Peter became angry, and with that he struck Patrick on the head with the key of Heaven, so that he broke his pate, and Campion says that the prelate obtained a subsidy by this story. My answer to him here is, that he is like a player who would be recounting jeering stories on a platform rather than an historian. For, how


could: it be possible that any Christian who was in Ireland would believe that Patrick's crown could be broken, and he having died more than a thousand years before: and more-over, as everybody knows, that it is a key of authority Peter had, and not an iron key by which any headpiece could be broken. Wherefore I think it was a silly lie Campion invented in making up this thing about the Irish; and forasmuch as he admits himself in the epistle he writes at the beginning of his book, that he spent but ten weeks in writing the history of Ireland, I think that it is not worth making a reply to any more of his lies.

Here is the testimony which Mr. Good, an English priest who was directing a school in Limerick, gives concerning the Irish in the year of the Lord fifteen hundred and sixty-six:—A nation this, (he says) which is strong of body, and active, which has a high vigorous mind, an acute intellect, which is warlike, lavish of its substance, which is gifted with endurance of labour, cold, and hunger, which has an amorous turn, which is most kind towards guests, steadfast in love, implacable in enmity, which is credulous, greedy of obtaining renown, impatient of enduring insult or injustice. {Gens haec corpore valida et in primis agilis, animo forti et elato, ingenio acri, bellicosa, vitae prodiga, laboris, frigoris et inediae patiens, veneri indulgens, hospitibus perbenigna, amore constans, inimicis implacabilis, credulitate levis, gloriae avida, contumeliae et iniuria impatiens.}’’

Here is also the testimony which Stanihurst gives of them:—A people much enduring in labours, beyond every race of men, and it is seldom they are cast down in difficulties. {In laboribus ex omni hominum genere patientissimi, in rerum angustiis raro fracti.}’’

Spenser says that it was from the Irish the Saxons first


received the alphabet, and, according to that, the Saxons had no knowledge whatever of literature till they acquired it from Irishmen.