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Travels in County Clare 1534 - 1911
(extracts from The Strangers Gaze, edited by Brían Ó Dálaigh)

John Manners, Notes on a Clare Tour, 1846

John Manners, a life long politician, was the second son of the fifth Duke of Rutland. Educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge, he graduated an M.A. in 1839. He composed poetry and in 1841 published a book entitled England's Trust and Other Poems, which is chiefly remembered for the couplet:

Let wealth and commerce, laws and learning die,
But leave us still our old nobility,

- lines which, at the time, exposed him to much public ridicule. Entering parliament in 1841 as member for Newark, he espoused many liberal causes. He was a strong advocate of social reform and for raising the conditions of the lower classes both materially and intellectually. He sought to establish public holidays by act of parliament and campaigned for a ten hour maximum working day for labourers which eventually became law in 1847. Being sympathetic towards the Catholic church, he advocated generous treatment of the Roman Catholic clergy in Ireland and supported the financial grant to Maynooth college in 1845. On the death of his brother in 1888 he succeeded as seventh duke of Rutland. His book on Ireland is principally of value because he toured the country as the Great Famine raged in 1846. What is particularly significant about his journey in west Clare is that, despite observing the appalling social conditions, not once does he mention famine or starvation; as an aristocrat Manners was perhaps too removed from the struggle for survival to appreciate the plight of the common people. The tour was first published in 1849 ‘to amuse and to provide useful suggestions to those who may wish to visit the Emerald Isle’. A second edition appeared in 1881 to show how much progress had been made in the interim.

24 August [1846]. I witnessed to-day some curious and some painful illustrations of everyday Irish life, at Sixmile Petty Sessions, in a wild part of Clare. On entering the little town, every other house in which is a ruin, we met a Mr ---, whom --- introduced to me as one of the most spirited agricultural improvers of the west; we went into court, and the case which occupied most time and attention was one in which Mr --- played a conspicuous part, as will be seen from the following sketch of the attorney’s speech for the plaintiff in Maloney v. O’Gorman.

For twenty years Maloney had rented of Mr --- a small farm and piece of bog convenient at £18 per annum. In 1843 the lease expired; Mr --- refused to renew it, and asked £5 a year in addition for the tenancy at will. Maloney agreed, and took the land at that rent: but Mr ---, anxious to improve his estate, said, unless you will subsoil your farm, you must pay 5s. an acre more. To this fresh demand Maloney demurred, and then followed a series of persecutions on the part of Mr ---, the last of which was the case before us. In 1844 Maloney tendered his rent, minus the £2 5s. for not subsoiling; Mr --- refused to receive it, and served Maloney with a latitat; the cause was tried, and Mr --- cast with costs. Coming out of court, the defeated gentleman saw Maloney and his wife standing outside, and, as their house was some way off, knew they could not reach it speedily, he jumped on a car, and broke into the ungarrisoned place, turning the furniture into the road, and breaking the finger of Maloney’s father-in-law, an infirm old man, with the tongs. The work of demolition was nearly complete before the Maloneys came up. On Mrs Maloney attempting to enter, Mr --- presented a pistol at her; but in spite of all this a truce was concluded, the furniture replaced, Mr --- forgiven, and things resumed a tranquil appearance. But twelve days after this attack, Maloney hears Mr --- has issued a summons against them for an assault. The trial came on, but the crown prosecutor, after opening the case, refused to proceed with it, and Mr --- was again defeated. This took place last spring; he then gave Maloney notice to quit next November, thus acknowledging the poor man’s right to the land until that period. But in spite of this he affected a right to let the piece of bog to the present defendant for 14s. and had induced him to ‘foot’ the peats which Maloney had cut; for doing which the action was brought. Imagine this tale, which I have purposely related in as bald a manner as possible, told with all the vindictive eloquence of an Irish attorney, passionately pleading the cause of the poor oppressed against the rich oppressor! Well, O’Gorman said but little in defence. Mr --- had assured him the bog was not let to Maloney, and had urged him to foot the turves; he believed him, paid his rent, and committed the act charged against him. The plaintiff’s attorney asked for only nominal damages, to prove once more his client’s right, and 1s. fine was imposed on the luckless O’Gorman. What a light does this little history, thus imperfectly told, throw on Irish misery and Irish disaffection! Here you have a gentleman, whose health a few days ago was proposed at the great Irish Agricultural Meeting in Limerick, as the type of agricultural progress, demanding that which no landlord has a right in law or equity to demand of a tenant; persecuting that tenant from court to court for resisting that unjust demand; when defeated in law, having recourse to violence, and with his own arm assaulting an infirm and helpless old man; receiving a double rent for the same bog, and, lastly, urging a man whose money he had wrongfully received to the perpetration of an illegal act, for which that man is punished! . . .

In [another] case, a priest, with a handsome riding whip in his hand, appeared as a witness. One brother charged another with trespass, for pasturing his cows on his, the complainant’s, land. The defendant had offered to refer the matter to the arbitration of the third brother, the priest; the complainant rejected the proposal, and the priest came into court to say what he knew of the matter: in the very first sentence, however, he styled brother No. 1, an ‘idle lazy fellow,’ which drew from that insulted gentleman a storm of the most vituperative vindication. ‘Me idle! and it’s you who say it: you who, etc., etc.’ The constables cried silence, the magistrates, like Lauderdale in ‘Old Mortality,’ entreated the excited orator ‘to keep his breath to cool his ain porridge;’ the priest held up his hand, and turned up his eyes in vain: there was the end of his mediation, and fraternal authority. When the storm had somewhat abated, the magistrates recommended the parties to settle it amicably, and the Roman Catholic Bishop and a neighbouring farmer were agreed to as referees.

There were half a dozen other causes, each with some peculiarity, grave or gay, stamped upon it; and I left the court-house of Six-mile Bridge, duly impressed with the conviction that an Englishman can know nothing of Irish nature and Irish habits. . . .

Sunday 30 August [1846]. Young and old, rich and poor, in the west of Ireland have an unbounded faith in the restorative effects of sea bathing; and during the summer months a little bathing place on the iron bound coast of Clare, called Kilkee, receives more visitors than twenty towns of larger dimensions could possibly accommodate. 'He's set a lodge at Kilkee' or 'They're gone to the salt water', is the usual reply to an inquiry after a Limerick family at this time of year. The lower you descend in the scale of society, the more does the faith in the sea approach superstition; and the privations a poor family will endure, the weary miles they will walk, in order to give some sick member the benefit of a month at the seaside, is extraordinary. The sea for all conceivable complaints is a sovereign remedy. Anxious to see this western Brighton, I got on board with considerable difficulty, a Limerick steamer, crowded as never was a steamer crowded before, which carried us rapidly down the noble ever-widening Shannon. The scenery along its banks still continued uninteresting, almost ugly, but the river before we reached Kilrush is well nigh a lake. Kilrush is the port of Kilkee, has a large market place, some granaries, and other faint signs of trade and business. A drunken driver and jaded horse, after sundry mishaps, took us to Kilkee by sunset, through the most wretched dreary country, I have yet seen. Vegetation hereabouts appears not to be stunted only, but to have ceased altogether, as if tired by the long years of constant endeavour and recurring failures.

Tuesday 1 September [1846]. Kilkee itself is the quaintest collection of little whitewashed cottages, some distinguished by the name of 'lodges', that ever aspire to the dignity of a bathing place; and considering it is on the Atlantic I must pronounce the bathing to be bad. The lodges are built round a sandy creek, and here coram populo, plies the one bathing-machine, which the decent liberality of Lady Chatterton presented to this Clare Herne Bay; and if you don't choose to wade a quarter of a mile among a hundred fellow bathers over the said sands, you must do as I did, look out for some cranny among the rocks and trust to the mercifulness of the Atlantic waves. . . As we had only one day to spend at Kilkee, how we should spend it became an anxious question with my two companions, who knew all the charms of this weird coast. . . .

A walk of five or six miles brought us to the Natural Bridges of Ross, which are three in number, and are thrown over narrow creeks of the sea; under them the tide rushes with great violence, and in winter, the neighbouring farmer told us, often dashes over his sheep walk, and endangers the life of his luckless flock. . . In the various little inlets of this terrible coast, where no boat can hope to live, we saw some fifty canoes drawn up, bottom uppermost, looking like stranded whales; these belong to a class of venturous seamen, who catch mackerel at night, and idle or cultivate a wretched acre of land during the day. They sell their mackerel at three-halfpence a piece to the Kilkee tradesmen, but it is only on calm evenings that even they dare risk their frail canoes on that terrible sea. About two hundred men are employed on this dangerous occupation. The farmer on whose grounds these bridges are, asked us into his house and gave us some milk. Several of the fishermen lounged in, and we offered them the remains of our bottle of sherry; all, however, save our wild looking host, were teetotallers, and declined: he gulped down the wine with great relish. I wish I could have sketched his one great room, that like the cobbler's in that touching poem, 'served him for kitchen, and parlour and all'; it rose with an open timber roof, the whole height of the house, and was warmed by an enormous fireplace and chimney. A long-haired daughter was busy at the spinning wheel in one corner, and altogether there was an air of comfort about this marine grange that I have not seen in more favoured localities. Here we found our car, and our kind friend insisted on showing the way onto the high road; and perhaps it was well he did so, for the track lay through several ruined cottages; and as it is impossible to draw a line between the ruinous huts that are, and those that are not inhabited in this country, we might have scrupled to invade, horse and car, the desolate privacy of these sad penates [dwellings]. Guided, however, by him, we threaded our way through kitchen, pig-sty and dung-heap, and so reached the Kilkee road.

Extracts taken from Lord John Manners M.P., Notes of an Irish Tour in 1846 (Edinburgh 1881), pp 15-20, 54-61.

A Tour of Pre-Famine Clare, 1842
Johann Kohl


Quaker reports on
Famine Conditions, 1847