J. Bush, A Letter from a Gentleman in Dublin (1969)

A Letter from a Gentleman in Dublin to his Friend at Dover in Kent, giving a general View of the Manners, Customs, dispositions, &c., of the Inhabitants of Ireland, with occasional observations on the State of Trade and Agriculture in that Kingdom, And including an account of some of its most remarkable Natural Curiosities, such as Salmon-Leaps, Water-Falls, Cascades, Glynns, Lakes, &c.; with a more particular description of the Giant’s Causeway in the North; and of the celebrated Lake of Killarney in the South of Ireland; taken from an attentive survey and Examination of the Originals; collected in a tour through the Kingodm in the years 1764. Ornamented with plates. (Dublin: J. Potts at Swift’s Head Dame St. MDCC LXIX [1769]

‘If in any part of the kingdom there are any wild Irish to be found, it is in the western parts of this province, [35] for they have the least of law and government of any people in Ireland, I believe, except that of their own haughty and tyrannic landlords, who, in a literal sense, indeed, are absolute sovereigns over their respective towns and clans, which the western part of this province may not improperly be said to be divided into. Their imperious and oppressive measures, indeed, have almost depopulated this province of Ireland. The will and pleasure of these chiefs is absolute law to the poor inhabitants that were connected with them, and under whom they miserable wretches live in the vilest and most abject poverty../This account, though unfavourable, is not exaggerated, I assure you, for it is taken from some of the more sensible people of the very province. Too much, indeed, of this is seen through the kingdom to be pleasing to the English traveller. I never met such scenes of misery and oppression as this country, in too many parts of it, really exhibits. What the severe exactions of rent, even before the corn is housed, a practice that too much prevails here among the petty and despicable [37] landlords, third, fourth and fifth from the first proprietor (of which inferior and worst kinds of landlords this kingdom abounds infinitely too much for the reputation of the real proprietors, or the prosperity of agriculture;) of the parish priest, in the next place, for tithes, who mot content with the tithe of grain, even the very tenth of half a dozen or half a score of perches of potatoes, upon which a whole family, perhaps, subsists for the year, is exacted by the rapacious, insatiable priest. I am sorry to tell you, that too many of them are English parsons. - For the love of God and charity, send no more of this sort over, for here they become a scandal to their country and to humanity. - Add to these, the exactions of, if possible, the still more absolute catholic priest, who, though he preaches charity by the hour on Sunday, comes armed with the terrors of damnation, and demands his full quota of unremitted offerings. For, unhappily for them, the lowest class of inhabitants in the south and west parts of the kingdom are generally catholics, and by that [sic] time they are all satisfied, the poor, reduced wretches have hardly the skin of a potatoe [37] left to them to subsist on. I makes no doubt, this has been the principal source of the many insurrections of the Whiteboys, as they are called, in the south, from my own observations and enquiries in the midst of them, and likewise drives them, in swarms, to the high roads, which throughout the southern and western parts, are lined with beggars; who live in huts, or cabbins as they are called, of such shocking materials and construction, that through hundreds of them you may see smaok ascending from every inch of the rook, for scarce one in twenty of them have any chimney, and through every inch of the defenceless coverings, the rain, of course, will make its way to drip upon the half naked, shivering, and almost half starved inhabitants within.

This is no exaggeration of the whole truth, upon my honour, and it is the most disagreeable scene that presents itself to an English traveller in this kingdom. Happy would it be for the lowest class of people (whom oppression and want of employment too often and unjustly subjects to the imputation of being idle) if the method of parochial provision [39] in English were introduced into this country ... the case of the lower class of farmers, indeed, which is the greatest number, is little better than a state of slavery, which the priest and subordinate landlords, in ease and affluence, live in haughty contempt of their poverty and oppression, of which the first proprietors are too seldom, indeed, for the interest of this kingdom, spectators. - The natural consequence of this scene of things among the inhabitants, is visible even upon the lands in this country in general; which, tho’ by nature, a very considerable part of them, rich and fertile, yet they almost universally wear the face of poverty, of want of cultivation, which the miserable occupiers really are not able to give it, and very few of them know how if they were: and this, indeed, must be the case where the lands are canted (set to the highest bidder, not openly, but by private proposals, which throws every advantage into the lands of the landlord) in small parcels of [£]20 and 30l a year, at third, fourth, and fifth hand from the first proprietor. [...; 39.]

ON BOGS: ‘Though the bogs have generally been classed among the natural disadvantages of this kingdom, I shall, notwithstanding, take them into the number of its natural curiosites, at least they will appear sch to the English traveller, both as to their origin and produce. But prepare yourself to travel as lightly as possibe, throw off every unnecessary weight, for the surface you have now to tread on is very inform and dangerous; and should you once break through, you have but little chance of stopping, in your descent, ’till you reach [90] the antediluvian world, for that will probably be the first firm footing that your feet will find; such, however, seems to tbe the most generally prevailing opinion here concerning these bogs - that the timber and trees of every kind which, are frequently found at the bottom of them at very different depths were originally thrown down by the universal deluge in the life of Noah. There may be truth in this opinion, but ’tis certain, at best, that ’tis altogether conjectural, though not altogether improbable.’

[Goes on to cite instance of discovered giant human skeleton of ‘one of those ill-fated inhabitants of the antedeluvian world’ in Rye, Sussex, not in Ireland; 91]

the bogs ... in Ireland, produce a sweet and very wholesome kind of firing in great plenty. In this respect nature seems to have been favourable to the inhabitants, in raising a very useful kind of firing even upon the ruins of the original fuel, insome of them to a very consideable depth, from five to tenor fifteen feet. By the natives it is called turf, which constitutes the entire substance of thes bogs, and from thence they are usually called turf bogs. That of the bog of Allen, which extends almost across the province of Leinster, from east to west, is univerally esteemed the best of the kingdom for burning. It is dug out with sinstrucmetns made on prupose for that use, in little spits, in shape and size not much nlike our common bricks; and, when thoroughly dryed for burning, appears to be a very mass of roots, so fine and mated together, that, in its natural and moist situation in the bog, it cuts close and smooth like [92] drained mud. The closest and most combined in its natural state in the bog is the best and most lasting firing when dryed, as the turf of this kind has the least mixture of earth, and consequently is of the most lignous composition.

The account that is generally given by the natives for the production of this vegatative kind of soil is erroneous, I believe, viz. That it is a mass of stuff that has grown from the fallen wood that originally grew there, throwndown by Noah’s food,or the lord knows when; and by others, that they dervie fromsome peculiar boggy property of the waters that lodge amongst them.

That some of these boggy flats were once covered with woods is highly probable, from the vast quanitities of timber and roots of all kinds and sizes, particularly of fire, oak and yew, that are found at the bottom of many of them, where the turf is taken away. But this is not univesal, on the contrary, the most extensive bogs have the least of this timber at the bottom. It is universally observable, that the surface of these bogs is convered with a short, thick, and matted [93] kind of heath, which undoubtedly as it grows and thickens at the top, vegetates at the bottom into a close and extremely radicous texture, and which, from its low situation, in general, being replete with moisture, naturally throws out successive annual growths of this exceedingly ramified heath, a great part of which dies and shatters upon every return of the winter, and forms another strata of mouldered heath, from which, in the spring, a new and successive shoot of heath, is produced; and thus as these strata of moulder’d heath are annually repeated, the inferior and internal vegetation of the roots increases and becomes extended higher, and at the bottom more consolidated; and this account seems confirmed by the appearance of the turf on the sides of the channel, wher it has been dug, which is ever found of a closer and firmer texture, as they descend to the bottom of the bog. [...; 94] and, so far from being the produce ofthe fallen woods, which are frequently, indeed, but not always found at the bottom, I do not at all suppose that even the very first and original growth of this heath, at the bottom of the present bog, in any sense sprang from the fallen wood, its neighbouring substratum. [95]

... the very roots, from the constant moisture of their situation and their fibrous texture mus be continually vegetating and thickening into a closer mass under the surface. ... ever in very moist, land-springy grounds ... an attraction of the fluids from the infinite number of capillary fibres, which are of the very component substance of this vegetative mass. - In this sense, and only in this sense, it is that the waters can be said to produce them, and not from any boggy quality in the water itself as is pretended by some writers on the subject. [97]

[Bush denies that the wood at the bottom of the bog can be in any way productive of the bog:] It will be very natural and rational to conclude, that the turf, from top to bottom, is entirely the produce of a vegetation from itself, in the manner, and by a vegetative process above described. And the reason why this kingdom in paricular, should exhbit such an extraordinary quantity of these turf bogs, is very evidently this, that the soil, by naure, is replete with the seeds of this bog heath, and, indeed, it [98] is found almost all over the kingdom, high and low, where the lands are in their rude, uncultivated state, and it seems by nature, a vegetable inclined to flourish and increase where it has constant supply of moisture [...] ’tis well know that the bogs in many places have risen several feet within the memory of man ... [99] the turf bogs which are found in such uncommon quantity in this kingdom, are nothing but the natural produce of the heath, with which the uncultivated parts of Ireland almost universally abound.

... And a turf bog of the same kind, I make no doubt, might be produced in any most flat in England, by sowing the seeds of this species of bog heath.

[Finds the air of these bogs offering] nothing but the natural smell of the turf, in which there is nothing very disagreeable, nor by any means equally noxious with the stinking exhalations from many of our moory and marshy grounds [100-01].


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