A Year in Europe 1823 by John Griscom

Church Place Lurgan

In 1823, John Griscom an American archivist and traveller published his A Year In Europe - Comprising A Journal Of Observations In England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Switzerland, The North Of Italy, And Holland, based on his travels in 1818 - 1819. Of his journey through Lurgan, he says this::

We passed, in our morning's ride, through the town of Moira, which gives title to an Earl, who is the present governor general of India. It is a miserable, decayed village; the seat of the earl is also in a state of dilapidation, all owing as I was informed, to the devastations of the gaming table.

At Lurgan I was introduced to a family of Friends, consisting of the father and mother, and fourteen children, seven sons and seven daughters. The mother nursed them all herself, and is still handsome and blooming. The oldest is about twenty-four and the youngest two and a half years old. Lurgan is a market town, and I had an opportunity this morning of witnessing the bustle of an Irish country market. The most curious part of it, was the manner in which flax and linen cloth, the great staple of the north, are bought and sold. The spinners come to the market to buy flax and tow, and to dispose of their yarn to the weavers; and the latter to buy yarn and to sell their cloth to the bleachers. A particular area, enclosed by a wall and opened and shut at a precise hour, is appropriated to the bleachers. They mount upon a ridge of stone blocks, with a pen and ink in their hands, and the weavers crowd around them, presenting their pieces of linen, and clamouring with impatience to get a chance of exhibiting their goods. The experienced purchasers judge, with surprising quickness, of the value of the linen. When the offered price is acceded to, the buyer marks it with his pen, attaches his signature, and after the market is over, meets his customers at the inn where he puts up, and finishes the transaction. Vast quantities of potatoes and fresh pork were displayed in the market. The former could be bought at the very low price of three pence per stone, or twenty and a half cents per bushel.

That a country, where wholesome provisions are so plentiful and cheap should exhibit so much poverty and wretchedness, seems, at first view, to present a paradox in political economy. It is conceived by some, that the fertility of the soil and the great facility with which provisions, and especially potatoes may be raised, are among the causes of the distress and suffering of the lower classes. Confirmed as the poor of this island are in the habit of living in dirt and privation, and knowing that they can subsist on potatoes alone, and that the soil, with very little trouble, will produce a sufficiency for their maintenance, they have become, it has been said, habitually indisposed to make those exertions, and to practise that foresight and economy, which, were the land less productive, and the provision absolutely necessary to subsistence, more precarious, they might probably be compelled to observe. Such I know are the reasons assigned by some respectable writers, and Malthus among the rest, for the miserable condition of the Irish peasantry. But allowing this argument all the weight that it can possibly claim, it only goes to prove that the habits of the poor are exceedingly degraded. The causes of this degradation, and of course the primary causes of their sufferings, must, I think, be of a different nature.

Lurgan is probably one of the most respectable villages, for its size, in the island; and yet there were more rags and poverty in the street than I recollect to have seen any where in England or Scotland. Ballad singers and venders of stories, and dying confessions, were heard in the streets, showing a depraved, or at least, an unenlightened taste among the people, which would scarcely be found in any part of the United States.

A friend conducted me to the seat, and through the grounds of –Brownlow, whose son is at present member of parliament for the county. It is delightfully situated near Lough Neagh, and finely diversified with lawns, avenues, and groves of large trees. A small lake in the park discharges its transparent waters into the large lake, and serves by its streamlets and bridges to give an enchanting variety to the place. The grounds abound in hares, which are seen in flocks of some hundreds, the owner not suffering them to be killed. Lough Neagh contains about 100,000 English acres of surface, and is connected with Belfast by a canal, and with Newry by another. I dined and lodged at the house of a friend, J. C******, about five miles from Lurgan, whose residence is one of the neatest and most pleasant rural spots I have any where visited. His house, ground, manner of living, and intelligent conversation, gave me a very favourable opinion of the taste and character of an Irish country gentleman. He has a bleaching establishment at a short distance from his dwelling, the operation of which he superintends. The chlorate of lime, (or bleaching powder,) is made in a close room, the lime being spread on the floor and stirred frequently by rakes, which pass through the walls. In the summer season they do not use much of this material, but depend chiefly on alkaline washings, and exposure to the sun and air. The process of stamping the linen on wooden cylinders, folding, pressing, and making it up into pieces is carried on in this factory in great perfection. The noise produced by the stampers is almost deafening, and the violent friction which the linen undergoes, one would think sufficient to destroy the cohesion of its fibres, and greatly to weaken its strength.

The fruit and flower garden of this residence, is situated, as is usual in this part of Europe, so as to leave a fine lawn contiguous to the house free from enclosures, and ornamented with trees and shrubbery. In this respect, the taste for rural improvement in America, will admit of an almost total change for the better. We are very much inn the Dutch way of crowding together gardens and out-houses, and making them, for the sake of convenience, contiguous to the main dwelling, to the destruction of all neatness, and too often of health and comfort. The garden here is surrounded, and also divided into two parts, by a high wall, for the advantage of fruit. It contains a neat conservatory. At Bambridge (Banbridge), a thriving town, two and a half miles from where I slept, I joined the coach this morning for Dublin.

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