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 also.
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).
'The 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 them. …..
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 reduced it.
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.
I left 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 yarn. ….
The 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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