CELT document T100083

A German visitor to Monaincha in 1591

Ludolf von Münchhausen

Edited by Dagmar Ó Riain-Raedel

A German visitor to Monaincha in 1591

1. Münchhausen's diary — a translation


 285 On the morning of February 21 we saw Ireland; we cruised by it for some time  286 on the right hand side until we came to a white tower. There we sailed into the river and, as we met with a favourable tide, we arrived at Waterford shortly after midday. I am not certain, but I think that the distance between Bristol and Waterford is about 220 English miles. The cost for the passage was 5 Shillings.

In Waterford I stayed with a German woman from Cologne. Here, as in the rest of the town, no shields or weapons were hanging out.

22 February. In Waterford, I enquired about Ireland, her cities and wondrous places.

Waterford is situated in a good location, as it has a good river (the city lies ten miles from the sea) which allows large ships to sail into town. If the country were rich enough (as other countries are), this could be a noble merchant city. Even now ships are leaving for Spain and France carrying fish, mostly herring, caught widely here and cow hides which are the mainstay and asset of the country. In return, the ships bring wine, iron and other items. (The harbours are easily navigible and do not need experienced pilots.) Waterford is the noblest of all merchant cities in Ireland, it is here that the richest merchants live. If a merchant or other gentleman owns one thousand pounds, which rarely happens in Ireland, he is considered to be an immensely rich man. The houses at Waterford, as in the other Irish cities, even though they are built in stone, are common rustic buildings.

Cities in Ireland, Waterford included, are surrounded by walls. Here, as in other Irish towns, there had been monasteries which are now destroyed to a large degree. The churches now  p.229 belong to the reformed religion, but the people surprisingly still  287 cling to the popish religion into which they are born. The mind of the people as they themselves are very much given to superstition. Lent, which was just taking place, is here, and also in England, observed by not eating meat.

The island of Ireland is actually a wonderful and good country. It has all kinds of meat, fish and birds, not merely enough for its needs, but also for admiration and abundance. In Ireland there are falcons and eagles, but Giraldus Cambrensis errs, because it also has partridges, pheasants and goats. Ireland abounds in salmon and other fish, just as in venison, various ducks and different birds, also otters and martens.

The Irish oysters contain pearls, some of which I saw and bought for little money. However, they are not very clear and not of good quality.

The country is very fertile, and even though there are hills, mountains and valleys everywhere, there are also some fine plains. It is a great pity that such beautiful countryside should lie unused, covered by wild grass and shrubs. Most of the land stays uncultivated; because of the laziness and ignorance of the people there is neither plowing nor sowing. Compared to other countries Ireland is a very poor country, yet it is also known that mining is possible; it is not undertaken because of the natives are lazy and inflexible. Possibly they don't want to know or else they fear that the English crown would grudge them their wealth, because, even though they are poor, they are very much inclined towards rebellion.

The country's wealth consists of cattle, i.e. cows and sheep and what derives from them, such as calves, milk, butter, etc., which can be got anywhere.

 288 Ireland, though very hostile towards the English, is subject to the crown of England and is governed by its law and order. Yet the queen of England has yearly more expenses than income from it. The churches, where services are conducted in English, are of the reformed religion. The country people, however, do not take part in these, but rather adhere to their superstitious popish beliefs.

The country consists of many mountains and valleys, but also of bogs and is very wet under the feet. During winter, it is not very cold, nor is it hot in summer. It is coldest during February and March, but the cold is not as severe as in England or even less as in Germany.

The people are dirty, uncouth and lazy. They have brains enough for roguery, but are ignorant of arts and the more subtle craftsmanship. They delight in idleness, they are no good for work; rather than cultivate their fields they stay at home and rest around their fires, barely dressed. I myself have seen how seven people have dragged at one piece of timber without hardly moving it. I would have been well able to move it on my own.

I have seen them digging their fields, covered in their Irish blankets as protection against the cold wind. Although the fields are not tilled with the same effort as at home, they still produce plenty of corn. What a splendid country this could be if the people that live in other places were living here!  289 They do not need to make hay as they leave the cattle out in summer and winter. They burn the straw, although there is more than enough timber. Their clothing and food is filthy, the butter full of dirt and hair, as they never strain it. The farmers' jugs and other implements are never cleaned and are full of grime. They wear their shirts and other linen for more than a quarter of the year before they wash them. The Irish women carry ample linen cloths around their heads, they would be very pretty if they were clean and dressed differently. The men in the country don't wear hats. Boys can run like horses all day long. Two things I encountered in the Irish country houses: a pretty maid and also a pretty wind, sometimes also a nice horse.

The Irish love each other dearly, but hate foreigners. They divorce their wives easily. Often women have to give birth alone and then have to walk for miles afterwards.


 2902 March: At Waterford I hired an interpreter, a guide and also a boy to carry our luggage and took the boat as far as Carroa [Carrick-on-Suir], 12 Irish miles. Note that the Irish mile is somewhat bigger than the English.

Carrick belongs to the Duke of Ormond who owns large amounts of land around here. He has a house here and in Kilkenny, both are considered beautiful castles by the people.

3 March: on foot through Fidden, ten Irish miles. Then stayed the night at Fraglach, six Irish miles.

4 March: heading north, 13 Irish miles. We spent the night in the house of an Irish nobleman or squire. Their houses are built usually in the form of a tower surrounded by a wall. Yet they do not live in those but keep them as a fortress. Nearby they keep a house, badly built unlike our farm-houses, where they light a fire in the middle. Right on top is seated the man of the house with his wife, around them the servants according to their rank. After dinner, everyone looks for a bale of straw to sleep on. Every nobleman is obliged to host and supply with food and drink everybody; otherwise they will burn his dwelling and all he possesses in return. In Ireland everybody is considered a nobleman if he has enough cattle and land to live on, money they don't possess at all. I have wondered about their boorishness and coarseness; the nobleman in the house had taken off his pants and socks, stood against the fire and lifted his shirt and everybody could see his behind.

 291 At meal-time, they threw a rough, dirty plank across the table, and some herring, bread, a handful of leeks and some salt (which looked as if it was coarse gravel) were put on it. Through my interpreter they asked me many foolish questions during the meal. Then we all drank from a mug. At the end everybody was given water to wash his feet, this seems to be a courtesy in his country. When it was time to sleep, a blanket was thrown over some straw, the host and his wife lay down first, then myself and my guide together with the others and covered ourselves with our coats. This is the treatment by an Irish nobleman.

For riding their horses they use neither stirrup, nor boot nor spurs, but are dressed in a mail-coat, with a shield over their arm and a long spike (similar to the spear of our soldiers) in front of their saddle. Their servant runs some ten or twenty paces behind. The servants wear helmets and carry a broad sword at their sides; their body otherwise remains bare.

5 March: another four miles northwards to the island which was the purpose of this trip. It is called by the Irish Lan nimmeo, that means Insula viventium (Island of the Living). The prior lives half a mile from the island; some old brothers are living nearby. An old hermit, lying in bed, was administering absolution to those who wanted to visit the island. Through my interpreter I asked him whether everything I had heard about this Island of Life was true (although I had little doubts or else I would not have undertaken the journey).  292 Thus I wanted to know (in order to be prepared for the sceptics elsewhere) how one could be sure that nobody is able to die on the island. The old man gave me to understand that he himself had been living there for 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 (thus he counted the years one by one) 70, 80, 90, 100 and more years, without being able to die. Likewise, none of his brethren was able to die and when they were tired of life, they, just as he did himself, did not go there anymore so that they could die. I left the hermit and was glad that the prior of this place was absent, and I could escape from having to take part in confessions and other superstitious acts.

Then two friars brought my companions and me across in a small old boat. When arriving at the Island of the Living, it is the custom of the pilgrims to take off their shoes and socks and do eight times the rounds of the island. It was obvious that not many had done this lately. It was not easy to go around the island in bare feet, and, after I had done one round at my own pace in order to explore the place, I lay down under the tree and let the others complete their  p.231 devotions. That involved eight times around the church, afterwards they crawled on their knees to the altar of the small chapel and then of the big church.  293 Whoever, after all this, was able to embrace the stone cross with his back to it (actually an easy task), was without sin and his penance was over. Whoever was not able to do it, had not done penance enough. My companion, who was old and crooked, was not able to bring his arms around the cross and was therefore obliged to do more penance. However, as I was tired of it all and although he belonged to the popish belief, I helped him to stretch around his arms and in this adventurous way he was relieved of all his sins.

After contributing to the collection (this they actually take, although there is usually not much money in circulation in wild Ireland), and receiving the blessing of the old hermit, everybody is free to go his own way.

 294The Irish think a lot about this island, Lanimmeo, and believe that there is no pilgrimage holier than this one. This was confirmed to me by my interpreter who had personally heard from a man who had murdered and robbed. He had been desperate, half mad and ready to go into the wilderness until somebody advised him to go to the island. From then on he had a clean conscience, knowing that God had forgiven his sins. People are also convinced that nobody could die or ever had died on the island.

Also, women could not enter the island and they showed me a stone into which a woman had been turned who disobeyed the law. When she attempted to take the boat to the island, she drowned and was turned into the stone they were able to show to me. When I pretended to these Irish people that my devotion had brought me all the way from Germany to this island, they bestowed great honour on me and kissed my hands and body. Instead of probably robbing me, they accompanied me for a couple of miles and showed me the way. They did not know where Germany was, only having heard of Spain, England, Flanders and France, so I could tell them that the journey home would take me more than a year. Some of them wondered what great sin I had committed to have travelled such a distance, while others thought me to be a holy man in any case. One of them, to whom I had pretended that I had committed incest with my sister, told me that even if I had slept with the Holy Virgin, all my sins would now be forgiven.

The island is surrounded for about ten miles by bog and only a few passable ways lead to it. It is very small, apart from wild trees, it possesses a church and a chapel, both of them ruined and roofless. The surrounding water is not very wide, mainly swampy and home to ducks and swans. In the water there is a stone, roughly an elbow high, which they claim to be the inobedient woman. They claim that the wood from the island protects against poisonous animals. Though there are no venomous animals in Ireland, if you draw a circle around you with a piece of this wood anywhere else, no poisonous animal is able to enter it.

Sylvester Cyraldus [sic] Cambrensis, whose words are quoted by Ortelius in his Theatrum, is wrong when he states: “There is a lake in northern Munster, which contains two islands: one big one and a smaller one. The bigger island has a church, the smaller a chapel” etc.  295. There are not two islands, but only one, although there are many pieces of bog and tufts of earth nearby. I do not believe that nobody can die on the island. However, it is quite plausible that nobody died on it since there is nobody living on it. It can be believed or not that a hermit who had lived there to an old age, until he did not want to live any more, left the island voluntarily and then died.

Giraldus mentions two islands while there is only one; therefore I do not know which one he means when he claims that no animal of the female sex can live on it. However, if he means the one with the church on in, and so the locals seem to think, I do not believe him. For I have seen with my own eyes a pair of wild pigeons in the church, the walls of which were also covered with a quite astonishing amount of birds' excrement. I would have liked to make an experiment  p.232 with the female sheep or dog mentioned by Giraldus. Indeed, there happened to be a ship full of negroes in Ireland, which had been intercepted at sea, at this time. I was willing to buy one of the negresses and bring her to the island in man's clothes, but my guide and interpreter would not allow it for fear of the danger we might draw on ourselves. We had enough to do to get through this superstitious crowd.

I prayed to God to thank him and also to ask his forgiveness for having, as much as my conscience allowed me, joined into their superstitious behaviour. For some reason we returned by some other vicious swampy way, another six Irish miles. We stayed overnight with some nobleman.

When I travelled to Ireland I had intended also to visit St Patrick's Purgatory, but since the way was long and arduous, and since I had seen the futility of the island Lanineo, I changed my mind.

 296 March 6: I travelled thirteen Irish miles south and spent the night in a poor farmhouse.

7 March: Kilkenny, three Irish miles. I rested here today and also on March 8th.

While I was in Kilkenny, a villain had been sentenced to death and all the women were running through the streets crying and shouting. They clapped their hands and made such pitiful noises that the whole town was full of their commotion. I wondered what it was all about since it seemed to me that it could not have been any worse if the whole of the country had been betrayed. It seems to be their custom to mourn their dead by this crying without actually shedding any tears and by shouting: “Dil, dil, dil, dil — Ho, ho, ho!”

It was the day the court was sitting at Kilkenny, as it does in all parts of Ireland four or more times a year. Justice is administered strictly in Ireland, since the people are naturally inclined to be wild and devious.

9 March: from Kilkenny through Leistin [Leinster], ten Irish miles and then a further ride of fourteen Irish miles.

10 March: another twenty-four miles to Dublin. I had to pay the servant, who ran with the horse and also brought it back again, sixteen pence per day, not including the fodder.

In Dublin I stayed for the sake of speaking German with Peter von Heren, a shoemaker from Brugge.

Dublin is the capital of Ireland. Some three miles from it is the sea, but only small ships can sail up as far as the city.

This is the most beautiful and  297 noble of all places in Ireland. For a beginning, the city is surrounded by fertile fields and not mountains as most of the other places in Ireland. Also, the people here are less boorish and uncivilized since this part of the country has been given to the English by the Queen of England. Little Irish is spoken; there are even some people here who cannot speak Irish at all. The houses, too, are built more graceful than in other parts of the country. All commodities needed by the people for their needs and pleasures are available here. In the castle of Dublin they keep the whole of Ireland's ammunition and what else belongs to it. It is the residence of the Governor, whom they call Melord [My lord] Debitt, in summer he sometimes lives in a castle, some half a mile from the city. His office lasts for the year and the Queen is entitled to shorten or prolong it according to her wishes. There are also a chancellor and twelve councillors. Here in Dublin, the legal calendar is the same as in England, because the whole country is bound to English law.

 298 20 March, a Saturday: I took the boat at Dublin, but since I did not possess an English passport, I had to steal myself out of the country. After I booked a large cabin in one of the bigger ships, I let those who usually come to inspect pass by, and then let myself be brought out on a smaller boat to my ship. And thus I left Ireland.

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Title (uniform): A German visitor to Monaincha in 1591

Editor: Dagmar Ó Riain-Raedel

Author: Ludolf von Münchhausen

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Electronic edition compiled and proof-read by: Beatrix Färber and Janet Crawford

Translated into English by: Dagmar Ó Riain-Raedel

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1. First draft.

Extent: 3995 words

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Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork

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

Date: 2012

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

CELT document ID: T100083

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

Notes statement

We are very grateful to Dagmar Ó Riain-Raedel and to the Editor of the Tipperary Historical Journal, Dónall Ó Fionnáin for giving their kind permission to publish this material in electronic form on CELT. We are also very grateful to Dr. Brage Bei der Wieden, of the Niedersächsisches Landesarchiv, Staatsarchiv Wolfenbüttel, who transcribed the diaries of brothers Otto and Ludolf von Münchhausen for his PhD dissertation and supplied CELT with background information about the manuscript.

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  • The manuscript, written in German, is in possession of Rembert von Münchhausen auf Groß Vahlberg (Wolfenbüttel, Lower Saxony); photocopies are kept in the Niedersächsische Landesarchiv at Bückeburg.


  1. Bibliographical details are given in the article by Dagmar Dagmar Ó Riain-Raedel (see below).
  2. Brage bei der Wieden, Außenwelt und Anschauungen Ludolf von Münchhausens (1570–1640). Veröffentlichungen der Historischen Kommission für Niedersachsen und Bremen (Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1993).

The edition used in the digital edition

‘A German visitor to Monaincha in 1591’ (1998). In: Tipperary Historical Journal‍. Ed. by Dónall Ó Fionnáin. 223–233: 228–233.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  editor 	 = {Dagmar Ó~Riain-Raedel},
  title 	 = {A German visitor to Monaincha in 1591},
  journal 	 = {Tipperary Historical Journal},
  editor 	 = {Dónall Ó~Fionnáin},
  address 	 = {Thurles},
  publisher 	 = {County Tipperary Historical Society},
  date 	 = {1998},
  note 	 = {223–233: 228–233}


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The present text covers Ludolf von Münchhausen's diary on pp. 228–232.

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Creation: The original by Ludolf von Münchhausen was written between February 21 and March 20, 1591.

Date: 1591 (original); 1998 (translation)

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  • The translation is in English. (en)
  • The word lan nimmeo (=oileán na mbeo) is in Irish. (ga)
  • Some words are in Latin. (la)

Keywords: travel; diary; prose; Monaincha; Island of the Living; Insula Viventium; pilgrimage; manners and customs; 16c; translation

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(Most recent first)

  1. 2013-11-20: Additional information submitted by Dr Brage Bei der Wieden, Niedersächsisches Landesarchiv, Staatsarchiv Wolfenbüttel, added to header. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2012-09-24: File parsed; SGML and HTML files created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 2012-09-07: File proofed (2) online; corrections communicated. (ed. Janet Crawford)
  4. 2012-09-05: File proofed (1); structural encoding applied; header with bibliographical detail created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  5. 2012-09-03: Article captured by scanning. (text capture Beatrix Färber)

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