Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Learning about Ireland in the 17th century

As I work on my novel about the English family, my ongoing brick wall hasn't been so much about genealogy, but in learning about Ireland. I want to include those little historic details that give the reader a sense of time and place. I've found plenty of references about war and battles and even the persecutions of Quakers, but there seems to be a dearth of information about Irish daily life in the 17th century.

I tried using English social history, especially since my real-life characters were English settlers. I started with Marjorie and C.H.B. Quennell's A History of Everyday Things in England. It's a great resource and I used it to picture what Dinah English and John Clibborn would wear. Other topics, however, are jumbled about rather randomly and I'm never quite sure which would have carried over to the neighboring country.

Quakers journals of the time dealt more with spiritual things than physical. English diaries, like that of the famous Samuel Pepys, reflect an extravagant Restoration England that would have been rejected by Quakers, who strove for lives of simplicity.

I recently had a breakthrough — last month I found Irish Life in the Seventeenth Century, by Edward MacLysaght, through intralibrary loan. Pictures are few, but details abound! For example, the English settlers wore "breeches" (snug at the knee in Quennell's drawings) and the Irish wore "trousers," which were looser garments of similar length. One of the appendices (part of which is in Gaelic, but Dr. MacLysaght condescends to summarize a little for us) tells that poorer Irish men often didn't wear a shirt, just a waistcoat with bare arms under their cloaks. Exactly the little tidbits I've been looking for!

Fascinating as it is, Irish Life is not a quick read, and I had to send the plain blue hardback to its home library. I found a 1979 paperback online, with people in 17th-century costume on the front (remember the lack of pictures?), so I ordered it.

My copy arrived yesterday (yay!), sans appendices, notes and bibliography (boo!). Apparently the author, 91 at the time, (and perhaps his publisher) thought fit to cut 150 pages from "this popular edition." Ouch. Looks like I'll have to save up to buy an older copy.

I've been blessed recently with an outcrop of websites and blog posts to help with 17th- and 18th-century research. I plan to gather some of these resources into a subpage on this website. Meanwhile, here are my top finds for May:

1. A map and clothing from 1610 Ireland, at Irish Historical Textiles (contains the picture on the cover of my newly acquired paperback).

2. The Books of Survey and Distribution list names and show how land changed hands from Catholic to Protestant owners in Cromwellian and Restoration (mid-17th century) Ireland.

3. Popular books in the 18th century — a handy list by Roseanna M. White at Colonial Quills.

4. Did 18th-century women tie their apron strings in the front or the back?

5. What basic skills would an 18th-century outdoorsman or traveling colonist need to know? Keith Burgess tells us at A Woodrunner's Diary.

6. The author of Vintage Visions wears 18th-century finery.

And in a different century:

7. Last month 425 years ago, three ships carrying men, women and children departed English waters to start a new life in Carolina. They would become known as the Lost Colony.


1 comment:

Ireland County Clare tours said...

Almost every traveler like me knows about Ireland thoroughly. But after reading your article, I got interested to know that how was it looking like in the 17th century. I think that in those times, the beauty of Ireland was more beautiful than today because in those times there was no global warming. I like your post, it is pretty much interesting.