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

John Trotter, A Walk through County Clare, 1817

The aptly named John Bernard Trotter conducted a walking tour of Clare in 1817, just at the time when the economic recession associated with the ending of the French wars began to bite and following the widespread failure of the potato crop in 1816. Trotter, born in County Down in 1775, was a son of a Protestant clergyman; he was educated first at Downpatrick Grammar School and later at Trinity College Dublin where he graduated a B.A. in 1795. He subsequently travelled to London and befriended the Whig statesman and leader of the opposition Charles James Fox. Fox espoused many liberal causes including reform of parliament, repeal of the penal laws and the abolition of slavery. Trotter’s increasing interest in politics became apparent when in 1799 he published a pamphlet entitled An Investigation of the Legality and Validity of a Union. He was called to the Irish bar in 1802 and in the same year accompanied Fox to Paris following the conclusion of the peace of Amiens. On Fox’s appointment as foreign secretary in the wartime ‘ministry of all talents’, 1806, Trotter became his private secretary. Fox, however, died a few months later and Trotter returned to Ireland. In 1808 he published A Letter to Lord Southwell on the Catholic Question. In later life Trotter lived in poverty and his misfortunes appeared to affect the balance of his mind. In 1813 he was arrested for debt and lodged in the debtors prison in Wexford. The previous year he had begun a series of letters on a walking tour of Ireland. On his release from jail he continued with his letter writing and completed walking tours in 1814 and 1817. He died destitute at Cork, September 1818. Trotter’s tour of Clare is of interest principally because of his method of travel. Walking allowed him to visit villages, observe conditions and interact with people in a way not possible for the mounted or horse- drawn traveller.

This morning we left the memorable city of Limerick. . . The day proved very fine, and the harvest went on merrily in every field. We saw many fine crops of wheat and oats. Reaping and hay-making employed every busy hand, and the joyous laugh, and jocund Irish song, frequently struck our ears. We did not perceive as much flax as we wished. . .Directed to avoid the six-mile bridge-road, we turned to the left in our progress to Newmarket, and from an eminence beheld, at the end of a great plain, chiefly fine meadow, Bunratty-castle, an ancient seat of the O’Briens. . . Hay-making proceeded on all sides, as we approached the castle, and caused a very cheerful appearance in its vicinity. We were very politely permitted, by Mr Stoddert, who resides in it, to view the interior, which is exceedingly venerable. A great hall, or dining-room, arched with stone, in a very perfect manner, is still quite entire. . . .

At Newmarket we discovered an excellent small inn, beautifully situated at the extremity of the village. We met at it good accommodation of every kind, and a respectable hostess and her daughter, who used every effort to render us comfortable, and to give and procure for us every possible information. As these are attentions pedestrians do not always receive at the head inns in Ireland, they were the more agreeable to us.

Though the unrivalled beauties of the way had so much pleased us, a walk of sixteen or seventeen Irish miles did not fail to be felt, and made the reception we met with from Mrs Serjeant, our worthy landlady, very welcome. . . A refreshing repose, in excellent beds, made us quite alert the succeeding morning. In dressing I perceived, for the first time, and at the stables of our inn, a kind of horse-police, facetiously called, by the Irish - Peelers, from the secretary’s name who has introduced them, in hope of tranquillizing a country which, alas! my dear L., is already but too much burdened by expensive establishments, and whose agriculture can scarcely bear two years more the rents and imposts it is loaded with! These police are paid by the baronies, or parishes, where they are quartered, in case of turbulence; and the expense, we are told, in some places, amounts to eight or ten shillings the acre. They have been of considerable service, it is said, in several parts of this county, and if the objection as to laying another burthen on the land could be avoided, might for some time be a valuable and unexceptionable aid to the magistrates. I apprehend, such expensive establishments must go a great way to absorb revenue, and can no more restrain a great population than the chains Xerxes ordered to be thrown into the sea could the Hellespont. The expense of one of these flying corps of Peelers is not less than £4,000 in a district annually. . . .

Newmarket on Fergus (which being prettily seated on an inlet of the Shannon, is so called) has suffered dreadfully from the fever. At this town, and in its neighbourhood, it has, until this last week, raged like a plague. ‘We knew not,’ said our pleasing and intelligent guide, Mrs ---, ‘in the morning, of what death we should hear; or, at night, who could be said to lie down in safety. Funerals were frequent, and mourning in every house. But when we were almost in despair, the hand of God arrested this malady, and we are now tolerably free from it.’

The death of Miss Colpoys, a most amiable and benevolent young lady, residing near Newmarket, has been universally lamented. She caught this direful fever by ministering to the wants of the poor, and giving them food with her own hands. . . The Catholic bishop, who is a most worthy and dignified character, near this, has just lost, by the same cruel disease, a beloved nephew, of high respectability, and the father of a young family. When such characters fall, what must be the fate of the wretched inhabitants of the mud-walled cottages we have seen in Clare! And in and near this village! It is from such abodes of poverty that this pestilence emanates - it is in them it lurks - and from their inmates is infection so often personally caught. . . .

After viewing Mr Palmer’s house and gardens, we took leave of the respectable family at our inn. . . We very soon reached the beautiful lodge and entrance to Dromoland, the noble seat of Sir Edward O’Brien, a lineal descendant of the royal house of O’Brien. The lodge is one of the best taste and chastest execution we have seen, well-suiting the grandeur of Dromoland. From thence the avenue sweeps through extensive grounds and woods to the house. This venerable mansion stands on a gentle eminence, surrounded by noble trees, and overlooks a large and beautiful lake beneath the windows. . . The ancient appearance of the mansion-house, on which ivy had thrown here and there its leaves of glossy-green, was pleasing to us, as being far superior to that of many modern buildings. Sir Edward O’Brien received us with great politeness. The interior of the house is noble, and many good paintings very much gratified us. . . .

Sir Edward and Lady O’Brien treated us with hospitality peculiarly pleasing to pedestrians, who find the occasional charms of refined conversation and manners the best refreshment on their toilsome and devious way. Sir Edward directed us himself to the best path through his fine demesnes, and we left Dromoland, pleased with every scene, and gratified by every moment we had enjoyed there. Sir Edward O’Brien is a good agriculturist, without too much devoting himself to farming, and by his residence employs many. In the late famine, this family opened wide the stores of private bounty.

We hasten from this princely place on our way to Quin Abbey, a very few miles distant. Our walk led us, by private roads, along the small river of Quin, to this ancient ruin. We were astonished at beholding it. Quin Abbey is one of the most perfect ruins in Ireland, and of wonderful beauty. Its tower, cloisters, and aisles, deserve great attention. There we saw an incredible quantity of bones and skulls, long blanched by time’s resistless hand - they were piled in great quantities in the abbey. . . How many busy and thinking beings were these whitened fragments of mortality once! Some devoted to war, some to religion, some to commerce, or agriculture! - all now silent. . . .

When we visit the abbey of Quin you will not be surprised at these thoughts. It is really very grand, and its aisles reminded us of West-minister Abbey. A new church is building near it, however, which will somewhat injure the lonely and grand picturesque of this most venerable scene. The village near the Abbey is wretched; the cabins very poor.

Leaving the abbey of Quin, we proceeded along a wild road, and as the day improved, saw many distant mountains. There is great poverty in Clare, and the miserable attempt to sell unlicensed spirits in their mud-cottages scarcely excites displeasure; in a country where there is no trade, where agriculture is over-whelmed, and the people too numerous, nature struggles to procure some livelihood, and labour and fatigue seeks some humble refreshment. . . .

In the evening we stopped at a village called Spancer Hill. There the houses are poor, but a few neatly thatched ones are respectable. We smiled to exchange the splendid scene of Dromoland, in a few hours, for the very humble reception and fare of Spancer Hill. . . .

Spancer Hill is encompassed by singular round hills, but the country wants wood, and the land is too dear to permit improvement. They commonly give six guineas per acre for their potato-ground. On leaving this village, the evening sun broke out in full splendour, lighted every hill and small lake in this picturesque country, and, penetrating the humble cottage, beamed on the scanty furniture within. The Clare people are civil and friendly, and give every information or direction they could. The high rents afflict them in a considerable manner, and in their conversation we perceived a kind of despair, mingled with the hope that landlords and great farmers must yield the vain pretension of holding them up at war-rates. How happy for Ireland, if all had brought them down promptly, and with a good grace, when the markets fell. . . .

Many landlords have thought it a good expedient to take cattle, or any commodity tenants may have, in lieu of rent they cannot get. This must strip every farm of stock, and ruin the tenant for the ensuing year.

On our way the robin sung his evening lay in the hedge, and the narrow rural road we followed became very pleasing. We passed Moriarty [Moyriesk], a handsome wooded place of Major Macnamara’s, and had a distant view of Ennis. As the evening fast closed upon us we reached an irregular but beautiful lake, on a distant bank of which stood a small ruined castle. The rural toils of the day were ending, and the cottagers everywhere bringing home cattle, or plying little household cares at their doors. . . .

As we grew fatigued we saw, with pleasure, the small village of Crusheen, situated in Inchieronan Lake. We were now entering Connaught (according to its last division), and began to perceive one of its peculiarities and great beauties - the picturesque and frequent lakes scattered through it. We had seen several this day. We found an old ruined house converted into a tolerable inn, at Crusheen, and met great civility, an humble supper, and very clean good beds.

Extracts taken from John Bernard Trotter Walks through Ireland in the years 1812, 1814 and 1817 (London 1819) pp 374-95.

Observations on Agriculture, 1813
John Curwen


Diary of a Colour-Sergeant, 1828
George Calladine