Arthur Young's Tour of Ireland
A tour in Ireland; with general observations on the present state of that kingdom: made in the years 1776, 1777, and 1778.
A writer and agriculturalist Arthur Young wrote many accounts of his travels throughout Europe. He was particularly interested in rural economy and his observations on peasant farming and rural life are incorporated into two volumes.
Young’s most infamous commentary refers to the state of the Irish cabin. These, he maintained, were miserable hovels incorporating only one room. The walls were made of mud and ‘kneaded straw’ and many had walls only five or six feet high. There were no windows and only a door that allowed smoke to be retained rather than let out. The smoke injured the eyes and marred the complexions of the women, ‘which in general in the cabins of Ireland has a near resemblance to that of a smoked ham. The number of the blind poor I think greater there than in England which is probably owing to this cause’.
It is interesting to note a similar comparison made forty years later by Hely Dutton in his Statistical and Agricultural Survey of County Galway. Though the houses are somewhat larger with a number of rooms, ‘every house’, he said, ‘has a step down into it, by which means they are always damp; and as pigs and fowl are usually permitted to range through the sitting room, it adds to the filthy state of the dwelling’. Again, the only light came in through the door and where houses had windows, country people were said to dislike opening them.
Young’s commentary changes as he travels the countryside. On entering Summerhill, Co. Meath, the seat of the Right Honerable Rowley, he remarked:
...the country is cheerful and rich; and if the Irish cabins continue like what I have hitherto seen, I shall not hesitate to pronounce their inhabitants as well off as most English cottagers. They are built of mud walls eighteen inches or two feet thick, and well thatched, which are far warmer than the thin clay walls in England. Here are few cottars without a cow, and some of them two. A bellyful invariably of potatoes, and generally turf for fuel from a bog.
Meanwhile the state of the poor in Co. Kerry is ‘quite miserable’, due in part to the ‘conduct of men of property’ and the living conditions of the poor reported as much worse than twenty years perviously.
Hely Dutton, Statistical and Agricultural Survey of County Galway