This is part of what a Frenchman, named De Latocnaye, had to say on
his walk through Ireland in 1796-7. In fact the information
given below is mainly for Counties Armagh and Down as he had
little to say as he passed the northern half of County
Louth. Though that in itself would suggest the 'troubles' as
he termed them was a topic of conversation in those parts
In the TRANSLATOR'S
PREFACE it is stated of the Frenchman ' there is little
known beyond what he reveals in his books. …. From scattered
statements...., it appears that De Latocnaye was a Breton,
an officer, a Royalist; and that he was one of the thousands
of his countrymen who sought shelter in England from the
fury of the Revolutionists. He arrived at London on December
29, 1792, knowing, at that time, not a word of the English
language.’ (source: Translator's Preface to book, p.v).
country in the neighbourhood of Armagh is charming, full of
little hills and plains and pretty little lakes. Among the
places I saw I remarked, especially, Castle Dillon and Drumilly, .... Certainly there could not be a more agreeable
quarter; the country is a little paradise, it is impossible
to conceive anything better cultivated or more romantic.
What a pity then, that the spirit of discord and fury has
laid hold of the inhabitants to a point that might well make
one fear to live among them. Every morning there is news of
crimes committed during the night. Not a day passes without
murders or the burning of houses. ….
I think it my duty to give here a
little information on the subject of the troubles, which for
so long have desolated this beautiful country. The quarrel
between Catholics and Protestants of this county began with
a private dispute between two peasants at a fair. The one
was Catholic and the other Protestant. During the fight
ill-advised words passed from one side to the other, and
these had the effect, as is unfortunately the custom at most
fairs, of ranging the friends of the two combatants into
parties who fought each other with sticks. That day the
Protestants were beaten, but at another fair they took their
revenge, falling, armed, on the Catholics, and a number were
killed. The animosity between the parties manifested
itself for a long time before the Government appeared to
take any notice; in the end, however, the magistrates,
although not very energetically, took certain proceedings,
and put into execution a part of the law which at that time
forbade Catholics to have possession of arms. It followed
that, as there was no power to disarm the other side, the
former were entirely at the mercy of the latter.
I have been assured that there were certain
persons who thought it their duty to take the Protestant
side in order not to lose their votes in the parliamentary
elections. This unfortunate partisanship increased the
audacity of the triumphant side, who formed a military
corps, to which they gave the name of’ Orange Boys,’ .....
The other side took, correctly enough, the name of ‘
Defenders,’ for it is true that, at first, they only thought
of defence. The Orange Boys had the advantage over their
adversaries, seeing that they were armed, and the others
were not. ....
Some disdained to submit to these barbarous orders, and
during the night their cabins would be overturned or
demolished over their heads, or a dozen of shots would be
sent into a bedroom. These horrors started the Defenders to
commit excesses no less cruel. The atrocities were not
repressed with the necessary vigour to put an end to them,
in fact it seemed as if very little attention was given to
While, here, matters were in this distressing
state, it is very singular that troubles of a totally
different character appeared in the neighbouring counties.
Those of Armagh really belonged to a religious war, those of
the Counties of Down, Antrim, and Londonderry had, for
pretext, the reform of Parliament, and the discontented
affected to speak with indifference of all religions. ....
They assembled, appointed chiefs, announced
republican opinions, and declared that they only waited the
arrival of the French to join them. ....
I knew one brave commandant who tried to
steer clear of favouritism in any shape or form, and who was
always ready to succour the oppressed or weakest, without
regard to party. This was very good in him, but it was
necessary for him to have a strong force in command to deal
with the mutinous, for otherwise there was a risk of the two
parties joining against him. Although such divisions are a
great misfortune, they are, in certain circumstances, of
value to a clever government which knows how to manage them,
and to make use of these animosities to keep different
parties in check through their own action, and to prevent
them from combining against the Government.
Although I did not hear, this time, that the
Orangemen used the old menace of Connaught or Hell, it was
easy to see that their dominating idea was still the
expulsion of the Catholics, but their manner of action was
no longer so terrible. Trade was at the time, in the north,
in a very bad state, and many of the workers, ....
circulated adroitly among the peasants an old prophecy of
St. Columba which warned the faithful that 'A time will come
when war and famine will destroy in this part of the country
all those who have not embraced the new errors,' but, adds
the prophecy, ' the massacre will not extend beyond the
Shannon, where the faithful shall prosper.' ....
Newry is situated among high mountains, and
nevertheless enjoys all the advantages of the plain. The sea
is only at three or four miles distance, and vessels reach
the town easily by the river mouth and the canal, which is
continued from here to Lough Neagh.
There is here a very
considerable trade in linen, but the late troubles have
The divisions here have
very little connection with those of Armagh; they were more
like those of Belfast, being entirely political. Some time
before my arrival, the military had used severe measures,
and once, unfortunately, on false information and
inconsiderately. On this occasion eighteen men were
killed. Some story-tellers came to the town saying that a
troop of the United Irishmen were encamped in a little wood,
that they had committed various depredations, and had
attacked the militia. On this information the troops took
horse, and going to the place indicated, sacked several
houses and shot a few unfortunates, who fled before them.
The gathering in the wood turned out to be merely a number
of people who from fear had there sought shelter. They were
neither armed nor provisioned, but before this was
discovered eighteen were shot. ....
The cavalry regiment then at Newry was Welsh, a newly raised
troop. When they came to Ireland they came with all the
English prejudices, expecting to find the Irish to be
half-savages, in complete insurrection. In
consequence, they disembarked with the idea that they were
in an enemy’s country, and at the commencement of their stay
made themselves much to be feared by the inhabitants. With
all that, it is to be admitted that the terror which they
inspired was perhaps in many cases salutary, and I have no
doubt that the inhabitants of Newry for a long time will
remember the ancient Bretons.
these parts, and although I had been politely received, it
was with pleasure, for I hate quarrels. ....
I crossed the narrow chain of mountains near Newry, and
perceived with sorrow that the inhabitants had there
suffered much more than their neighbours. I saw many
houses which had been burned in order to force the owner to
give up his arms. ….
It cannot but be true, however, that many innocent people
have suffered through false information supplied by rascally
enemies; these destructions of the property of the innocent
are very regrettable, but it is absolutely impossible that
there should not be some such cases in such time. It seemed
to me that the peasant made the difficulty about giving up
arms simply because he feared to lose their intrinsic value.
If they had offered to pay him even half the cost, there
would have been no trouble.
To be in the middle of such disorder was very
disagreeable to me, and I saw myself, with great pleasure,
on the other side of the mountains. If I presented myself to
a man in favour of the policy of the Government, the name of
Frenchman was to him suspect; if I went to one of contrary
opinions, he did not know, at first, on what footing to
receive me, and when he had seen my passports he did me the
honour to believe me an agent of the Government sent to
inquire into the conduct of the discontented, and to terrify
them afterwards. …..
Dundalk is a rather good-looking little town situated in a
charming plain on the margin of the sea, and near the foot
of the Newry mountains. It was fair day, and patrols were in
the market-place, but there did not seem to be much
uneasiness. The idea that the farther I should get away from
the country I had just travelled the less should I find of
that air, terrified on one side, defiant on the other, made
me set out immediately. I passed by Castle Bellingham and
did not stop until I came to Dunleer—twenty-five Irish miles
not a bad day’s walk. Nothing special happened on the way; I
went too quick for investigations, and really did not wish
to investigate closely.
I remarked at
Dunleer that it was not linen which was being bleached, but
inn where I put up was really good, nevertheless a big
Englishman there was disgusted, and could find nothing to
his taste. He stormed and swore and longed for the roast
beef and plum pudding of Old England.....'
(Source: De Latocnaye, A Frenchman's
Walk through Ireland 1796-7 (Promenade d'un Franqais dans
Irlande) Translated from the French by John Stevenson,
Dublin ,1917, pp.258-270.)
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