John Derricke, from The Image of Ireland (1581)

[Click on image to enlarge] John Derricke was an English engraver who took part in the campaign against the Irish leader Hugh O'Neill in the 1570s. His Image of Ireland includes a number of evocative and detailed engravings depicting the campaign and the Irish way of life, and also a description in verse of Irish manners and topography. Derricke was a bigoted and unsympathetic observer of Irish culture, often describing the Irish as devilish or subhuman. The substance of his argument is that the Irish are incapable of being civilized, and can only be subdued by force. He counsels the English in Ireland to avoid all dealings with the natives, and in particular to steer clear of the women.


The discovery of the Irish Nymphs, their pleasures, pastimes, and accustomable usages, wherein daily they are occupied, are figuratively expressed.

The nymphs of sundry matrons, I
Have heard do there resort,
As time and fit occasion serve
To use for their disport.
Some for to shade them from the heat,
And some an other thing:
According as the rain doth fall,
So do the flowers spring.
One doth rejoice to spend the day
In playing barley-break; >> note 1
Another doth (I mean no harm)
As great a comfort take.
This nymph doth joy to scud along
The wood and riverside;
But she in snorting in a bush
Receiv'th as great a pride.
These do invite the murmuring brooks,
These dive and rise again,
And bathing in their sweet delights
So long they do remain,
Till Cupid toll'th his sacring-bell >> note 2
To enter other rites.
Ah, would revive a man half dead
To see those naked sprites! . . .

Oh, nymphs of lasting memory
Your virtuous actions rare:
With Venus for integrity
I freely may compare.
With Venus for agility
(Speak I of venial sin),
In her celestial paradise
Ought you to enter in.
For you are they which store the ground
With fruits of your increase
And make it daily to abound
(Mean I with rest and peace?)
With little nymphs and mountain Gods
Transformed now and then
From boars to bears, and yet sometime
Resembling honest men.
From whence there flows as from a spring
Another generation,
More subtle than the foxes are
In their imagination.
Who as they grow in elder years
And springing rise in strength,
So do they work the realm's annoy
And hindrance at the length.
So do they work the land's decay,
Procuring what they can:
The ruin and undoing quite
Of many an honest man. . . .

We know by good experience,
It is a dangerous thing
For one into his naked bed
A poisoning toad to bring;
Or else a deadly crocodile
Whenas he goeth to rest,
To lead with him, and as his mate
To place next to his breast.
The mischief thereof certainly
Is this that doth ensue
Even nothing but sudden death
To careless persons due.
Then since the harm is manifest,
Consent with willing mind,
To rid your hands from such a sort
For cat will after kind,
And be not witched evermore
With their eternal sight—
For why should men of the English Pale >> note 3
In such a crew delight?

[Description of an Irish feast]

Now when their guts be full,
Then comes the pastime in.
The Bard and Harper melody
Unto them doth begin.
This Bard he doth report
The noble conquests done,
And eke in rhymes shows forth at large
Their glory thereby won.
Thus he at random >> note 4 runneth,
He pricks the rebels on,
And shows by such external deeds,
Their honour lies upon;
And more to stir them up,
To prosecute their ill, >> note 5
What great renown their fathers got,
They show by rhyming skill.
And they most gladsome are
To hear of parent's name,
As how by spoiling honest men
They won such endless fame.
Wherefore like graceless grafts,
Sprung from a wicked tree,
They grow through daily exercise
To all iniquity.
And more t'augment the flame
And rancour of their heart,
The Friar of his counsel vile
To rebels doth impart.
Affirming that it is
An almost deed to God
To make the English subjects taste
The Irish rebels' rod.
To spoil, to kill, to burn,
The Friar's counsel is,
And for the doing of the same,
He warrants heavenly bliss.

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