CELT document E600002

Sir Parr Lane, Character of the Irish

Here transcibed into modern English is a hitherto unpublished tract by Sir Parr Lane from 1608 or 1609 giving his ideas on the Irish and the prospects for further plantation. Lane, a younger son of a gentry family in Northamptonshire, was born about 1560 and attended Christ's College Cambridge. He is known to have been in Ireland as an army captain in 1596/7 where he was wounded serving under Sir Conyers Clifford in Connacht. However he may have been there at other times before he was knighted in 1604 at Leixslip and for three years thereafter acted as Master of Horse to Sir Henry Brouncker, the anti-Catholic government of Munster. Brouncker's death in 1607 damaged his career though he remained based in Cork and was active as a member of the Munster presidential council until the early 1620s. At that time he wrote the fiercely Anti-Catholic poem Newes from the Holy Ile designed to warn the incoming Lord Deputy about the threat posed by the Catholic Irish. It was influenced by the ideas and style of both John Derricke and Edmund Spenser.

Hiram Morgan, University College, Cork, 2021.

Sir Parr Lane

Edited by Hiram Morgan

Sir Parr Lane, Character of the Irish

1. Bodleian Oxford, MS Tanner 458 ff 32-35.

Sir Parr Lane's Character of the Irish

 32rThe Irish for the most part (as whom education hath not yet licked to the true shape of civility) are more wily than wise; quicker in conceit than sincere in heart, base flatterers to serve their turns, being else by nature as proud as the proudest. They are circular in discourse, and seldom speak directly to any matter, neither shall a man ever know all their meaning until by some means or other they have insinuated into him. They are clamorous but use no truth in their complaints, and the end of Justice with them is but to attain what they desire, or demand in their private humours. They are cunning to circumvent and can make choice of times and occasions to do greatest mischiefs. Untainted Integrity in a Governor and a civil honesty more than ordinary is cause sufficient for them to cast out their venom against them. They affect news and are extremely credulous of Rumours, but especially they make it their Jubilee when any reports are blown over to the prejudice of England; which humours the Jesuits abuse to many purposes. They are audacious in behaviour or impudent rather, by which they prevail much with them that know not their conditions. They are emulous one towards another, but to us most malicious; and so much the more by how much they hold themselves bound in conscience to be faithful to us, swearing and foreswearing as beasts drink water. Their loose and shameless Apparel; their base Buildings;  32v their dislike of planting, setting and enclosing; the neglect or contempt rather of good Furniture in their Houses, even in the better sort who have Castles to secure it; the Scythian-like removes of their families and Cattle in the summer; but above all the natural desire they have to continue in the corrupt Custom of Captaincy and Tanistry, and their slavish dependency upon their lords, who fleece and flea them, ut imperant ut Domini, is sufficient to prove that the Common sort have not yet put off their habit of barbarous conditions, and if it has been held heretofore to be more convenient for the State to keep them still in that Condition, this Counsel may march with the other in equal rank to keep them likewise from all knowledge and practice of arms and military discipline, which they are now trained up in both at home and abroad.

The lords and chief gentlemen (excepting some few) have likewise their humours, whom Rhymers and Harpers make swell till they burst. The kerne, being their caters, are the cancers of the commonwealth; besides they attend them as Furies to execute their lawless wills in despite or revenge and like the Harpies with their beastly feeding, they keep their lords bare and devour their country. Under the name of kerne, I comprehend the loose and lazy younger brothers, the base sons and Horseboys, who howsoever they may differ in other things, agree in this, that they crop the buds and blossoms of peace in that kingdom, fruitful of his own blessings, but most unfortunate in his viperous brood.

 33rpon the Basis of such base Companions do the Lords set up that image of their disproportionate Greatness, to which all the people must fall down and worship. These lords in time of peace keep the people from all knowledge of Civility, by giving them (as much as they can) their wonted scope of Looseness and Impunity, which they prefer before lawful liberty, Civil Government and all the wealth in the world. In war they prosecute in such manner that it is easily discerned that the Rebel is rather winked at than pursued, the hound licking the hare's ear; and when they do kill, it is but few of their enemies, more for private malice than Loyalty or Justice.

The Citizens, who by prerogative of birth may say ‘Fuimus Troes’ (Virgil, Aeneid II, 325.)(See note 1 at end of file.) are now turned Grecians, as with the now too much retaining the Country's conditions, which in a new Plantation would be considered in that point. For the most part what they say or do now is but Grecianside, and although they play the crafty merchants, yet in time of Rebellion they are thought as hollow-hearted as the Country Rebel; and if the Pope's Banner should fly in the field, it is not unlike but they would be the worse because they are now more Popish than the rest. And what cordials their Mountebanks have given them, I know not, but they are of late more hearty than ordinary and have changed the Copy of their Countenance, as they that are amongst them may easily discern.

The Priest and the Lawyer are whelps of one hare and both of the City brood and so well agree they in  33v the main project of Mischief, that the Priest is but the lurking Lawyer and the Lawyer the walking Priest, both insinuating a dislike in Government and in Religion. The Lawyer goes up and down and prepares the way, that the Priest when he comes may sow the Cockle of Rebellion in the hearts of the people and both in City and Country. They dare not determine a matter of any consequence either private or public before they have confessed and receive Answer from these Oracles. So to wrap them all up in one general Rule (which yet in this as in all others things will have his exception) they must not alter their old bias in one thing or other, either newer or better, lest they should seem to slip or slide into the English fashion, for which they have the Curse one of another, and the Priest's Curse upon them all.

Englishmen that plant there by little and little suffer these exorbitant humours to creep on and take possession of them; if they have land in the Country and Authority in the State, they must follow the fashion to make themselves great, and aim both Counsel and Actions so that mark the less Estate they have in the Country, and the more they depend upon His Majesty's immediate bounty who have a hand in the Government, the more Justice and less Partiality are like to ensue in the Kingdom. The meaner sort of the English who have resided there any time are the worst part of the Venom that the Country yields, for being not of the best when they came over, they grew worse and worse etc. Malus Corvus, malum Ovum(See note 2 at end of file.)

This hodgepodge of humours makes a confused Estate and Ireland not much more clean than was Augeas's stable; a consideration whereof is to be wished, and a  34r wide door seems to be opened to let Reformation in by the Plantation to subdue the North, and by reviewing their Charters to repress the Insolencies of the Cities. Of what consequences these two are, Wisdom hath foreseen and desired that which now occasion presents. For the North like the Mount Aetna when the fire breaks out (and in Ulster is the first overture of all Rebellion) it carries the flames far and wide beyond its own extent. And nothing is more certain (as some of the Statists of that Kingdom have held) than that from the Towns all the Rebellions of that Realm are maintained and nourished. And Munster is not so much shot at in all Invasions for the goodness of the Harbours, as hope they have the Towns will revolt if they should where prevail. So that to go through with these and to bring them to an Issue were to cut the throat both of Rebellion and Invasion.

The wisdom of the Romans gave their servants once a year free liberty of speech; and duty and desire of the good of that Country makes me bold to speak, yet will I presume not to make a custom of it. It is now above twenty years since the plantation of Munster was first established, a fair time for young Grafts to prove fruitful Trees, and yet for the most part it is neither profitable to the undertaker, nor serviceable to the State. For at the first either too much was given to some that could not inhabit it as it ought to be; or great Men sold their seignories to such as had no possibility to perform the Conditions, and her Majesty did not reserve a power upon their defaults to resume it to herself, that by satisfying the first Proprietor she might turn it over to better hands. So that all the Care and Cautions of that worthy Counsel is frustrate in the end, which is the best part of every Action. That  34v now it may well seem to fall into consideration, whether the common sort of the English be fit Men for a Colony, being apter by the dissolute and drunken humours to maintain the Alehouse, and by their continual wrangling to enrich the Lawyer; few or none of the better sort will come out of England, where is a continual harvest of hopes into beggarly Ireland, as we here account it. Or whether it were not more expedient for Noblemen and Gentlemen of the better sort to send a younger Son of good hope and likelihood whom in their life time they may see seated in a strong Castle for their safety and stocked and tenanted (which may likewise be with the sons of their own Tenants) that profit may be reaped by the Land, his Majesty have his Rents and Services; and the Kingdom peace and prosperity. Or else a Colony of Dutch mixed with English and Scotchmen be invited over, they being the only people to make a Plantation that shall endure. They have lead in their feet, and are not apt to remove when they are once well settled. They are constant in their Courses and strike the nail to the head wheresoever they come. They love not to lie severing as the English do, but by all likelihood they will find their heads in the Morning where they laid them down at night. They are industrious and their discipline permits not Beggars or idle Drones amongst them. They plant Religion wheresoever they come and are not apt to Innovations. Besides their own Country affords much shipping and many commodities to allure them to Ireland where are so excellent Harbours. And they have score of Victuals which they may aid themselves with  35r in first their Plantation and his Majesty's Garrisons or Forts hereafter if occasion require. If some smaller portion at the first were by them well fortified, it would give assurances in some measure to the rest, and men would desire to live near to a place of Strength and it might in time grow to that pass, that like London there be more Buildings without than within the Wall; for it is ever good dwelling near good Neighbours. Thus the Example of such men might make industry there and the Mechanical Arts free Denizens of Ireland, which are now mere Strangers, as many of them were in England before the Dutch lived amongst us.

I am not well acquainted with the North, but if such a tract of land as the Barony of Imokilly is in Munster were allotted to them with privileges and immunities to sweeten the distastes that a Transportation brings along with it at the first Encounter, it would civilize the whole Province of Ulster in a short time. For if the Irish (by seeing the Freedom of that Nation and that their plough goes for themselves, and not to satisfy the appetite of such unlordly Lords as they are Commanded by) would cast off the Yoke of Slavery from their Necks, they would fall to honest courses to get themselves money, which they are lately grown in love with as much as any people. This and a good hand held over the Cities would work wonders in Ireland, especially if that hand were guided by direction of the Eye. For the Irishmen in England Act as it were a part in a Play; they are never themselves but in their own Country.

Governors when they come over affect Clemency above all, which seems to argue that that Course is here best allowed; but experience in a short time teacheth them a  35v new Lesson, that Lenity for the Diseases of that Kingdom is but (as the Physicians call it) palliatum remedium, it may ease for a time, but takes not away the malignity or mischief of that crazed country. Let not any Lion be doubted to lie in the way of Reformation, Nec bello fortes, nec pace fideles, they want not minds when they have means to be Rebels, and let not their shadows be valued more than their bodies are worth, for never yet was there Record to be found of any Irish Heroes but such as Rhymers and Harpers have obtruded to fancy. Let not the law, where it will extend, be too silent in the case of Recusancy, for this people what is granted of grace, they take as done for fear. If Orators were banished some Commonwealths because they might do hurt, let not Jesuits be harboured, who know not to practise anything but the worst of ill. To conclude, Salus populi, Suprema Lex esto, in a more Christian Construction, Let the Salvation of the people be the Supremest Law, and where the law written may seem scant, or wanting, there let the Lion roar, who makes all to tremble.

1. I.e., "We we Trojans".

2. A common Latin proverb, a bad crow, a bad egg; that badness begets badness.

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Title (): Sir Parr Lane, Character of the Irish

Author: Sir Parr Lane

Editor: Hiram Morgan

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Text transcribed and introduced by: Hiram Morgan

Electronic edition prepared by: Beatrix Färber

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1. First draft.

Extent: 2770 words

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Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a Department of History Project at University College, Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland — http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2022

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: E600002

Availability: Available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of academic research and teaching only.

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Manuscript Source

  • Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Tanner 458 ff 32–35.

Secondary sources

  1. Alan Ford, 'Reforming the Holy Isle: Parr Lane and the conversion of the Irish' in: A Miracle of Learning: Studies in manuscripts and Irish learning. Essays in honour of William O'Sullivan ed. Toby Barnard, Dáibhí Ó Cróinín & Katharine Simms (Ashgate, 1998).
  2. Alan Ford, 'Parr Lane, Newes from the Holy Ile', Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Section C. 99C, No. 4 (1999), 115--156.
  3. Thomas Herron, Spenser's Irish Work: Poetry, Plantation and Colonial Reformation (Aldershot, 2007).
  4. Margaret Clayton Curtis (ed), The council book for the province of Munster (Dublin: Irish Manuscripts Commission, 2008).

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Morgan, Hiram, ed. (2022). SSir Parr Lane’s Character of the Irish‍. Cork: Corpus of Electronic Texts.

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  title 	 = {SSir Parr Lane's Character of the Irish},
  editor 	 = {Hiram Morgan},
  edition 	 = {0},
  publisher 	 = {Corpus of Electronic Texts},
  address 	 = {Cork},
  date 	 = {2022}


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Date: 1608-1609

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  • The text is in seventeenth-century English. (en)
  • Some phrases are in Latin. (la)

Keywords: histor; legal; prose; tract; 17c

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(Most recent first)

  1. 2022-03-04: Minor changes made. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2022-03-03: Minor changes made to footnote display. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 2022-01-27: File parsed and validated. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  4. 2021-11-03: Text encoding converted, TEI header created, file encoded for structure. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  5. 2021-10-02: Transcribed text with preface and bibliographic details supplied as MS Word file. (ed. Hiram Morgan)

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