A medieval travel diary written by a German tourist to Ireland has been discovered – and he was less than complementary about the country or the people.
The diary was written in 1591 by Ludolf von Münchhausen. It seemed that he struggled to understand the culture of the Irish and while the people he met were certainly intelligent enough, he just couldn’t fathom why they would do some of the things he observed.
One of his big criticisms of the Irish people was that he believed they were lazy. He wrote: “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.”
If that wasn’t a damning enough assessment he returned to the point later in his writings: “The people are dirty, uncouth and lazy. They have brains enough for roguery, but are ignorant of arts and the more subtle craftsmanship.”
While he almost seemed like he was impressed with the natural beauty of the country, his positivity was over ridden by his disdain for the weather. He wrote: “The country consists of many mountains and valleys, but also of bogs and is very wet under the feet.”
It was a similar story when he described Irish women. While he conceded that they were attractive, he praised them with only a very backhanded compliment: “The Irish women carry ample linen cloths around their heads, they would be very pretty if they were clean and dressed differently.”
He went on to comment that the men would ‘divorce their wives easily’.
He said the ungentlemanly attitude of Irish men would seem to stretch to their apparent obliviousness to their guests’ sensitivities.
Von Münchhausen wrote: “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.”
He also revealed that while the Irish clearly loved each other, he suspected that they might hate foreigners.
Perhaps he just didn’t understand the Irish humour. He speaks of his experience in an Irish pub: “Through my interpreter they asked me many foolish questions during the meal. Then we all drank from a mug.”
The full diary is available to read on UCC’s CELT database of Irish texts.