Nineteenth Century Old Moore’s Paints a Picture of Ireland Long Ago


We love looking back at earlier editions of Old Moore’s Almanac, so we’re going right back to the 1890s to give you a flavour of the times. What was Irish life like in the last decade of the nineteenth century? And what about those predictions?

One of the most striking things about the Old Moore’s Almanacs of the 1890s is the number of pages devoted to riddles. Written by keen readers for publication each year, they often began with a dedication to someone special. Solutions appeared in the following year’s almanac and if you solved one, you were in with a chance of winning a prize. In times before television, cinema or even radio broadcasting, solving these riddles – or even trying your hand at writing one – would have been a useful way to while away long winter evenings.

These riddles weren’t unique to Old Moore’s Almanac; they were popular throughout Europe during the nineteenth century. There were different kinds of puzzles. Charades were three-part riddles that played on syllables; readers would need to decipher tricky language and wordplay to figure out the answer. A rebus required readers to combine syllables  from a set of words to produce a new word. An enigma was a true riddle, posing a question that had a straightforward answer.

The amazing thing about these puzzles was the fact that they were composed by readers. We’ve included one of each below so you can test yourself – we won’t make you wait a year for the solutions though, you’ll find them at the end of this article. Now be honest, would you be able to write one? And remember, just to add to the difficulty, the verse had to rhyme.

Riddle Me This

Here’s an enigma written by Patrick Keary of Durhamstown, Navan:

A slight Enigma I will try
This year for Old Moore’s valued Di,
No, witty bards, say what am I,
Please pay attention!

My values vary oft ‘tis true,
It may be one pound, fifty, too,
And every town I travel through
That you could mention.

It does not matter, new or old,
My value just the same unfold,
To Paddy I’m as good as gold,
And ofttimes better.

I’m cut in two most every day,
It makes me more secure they say!
To distant towns then sent away
Closed in a letter.

Musicians know me well – for pay,
I’m part of every tune they play,
E’en “Miss M’Cloud,” or “Patrick’s Day,”
“The Faded Flower.”

Young Johnny sent me oft to Kate
To tell her that the garden gate
Would be the trysting place at eight –
Love’s witching hour.

A short account I may be, too,
Or e’en a hateful I O U;
A memorandum of what’s due,
Or gone contrary.

Mark well the answer, write it down,
I’m sending it this week to town,
And hope, dear sir, that you won’t frown
On yours – P. Keary.

Now, here’s a prize-winning charade, written by Patrick Murray of Cullyhanna, Armagh and dedicated to John O’Lorne of Lislap, Omagh. Look out for references to the words ‘first’ and ‘second’ as these are direct clues to the syllables or words that make up the answer.

You lovers of freedom pray join hand in hand,
And help our great leaders ‘gainst foes of our land,
Unite with each other, all ye that are true,
And with one grand effort our foes we’ll subdue.

Our land is infested by reptiles of plunder,
Our sons are divided and driven asunder,
Daughters are exiled and forced from their home,
Across the Atlantic in thousands to roam.

Our priests are imprisoned as common outlaws,
For telling their flocks to be true to the cause;
And assisting Parnell and his National band,
To fight for the freedom of Dear Father Land.

The time will soon come when our members we’ll see,
Their laws of home making, when Erin shall be free,
And her Parliament sitting in sweet College Green
With banners bright flying, the gold and the green.

Our senators there shall be yet making tout,
Though with saxon second they strive to subdue
But in first I shall strive until total we get
And then my dear friend we shall cease to regret.

Finally, try your hand at this rebus, written by Thomas Carberry of Adamstown and dedicated to James Fagan of Ballybohill.

A Latin prefix you must trace,
The second in command,
One letter from the same erase,
Then foremost you’ve at hand.

The warrior sons of Greece had come,
And final strong laid low,
That city once of ancient fame,
Where grass and weeds now grow.

Soon may the whole the efforts crown
Of Erin’s chosen band,
Who bravely would their lives lay down
To free dear Motherland.

Life in the 1890s: Poverty & Power

The predictions from the 1890s are just as fascinating as the riddles – for several reasons. The psychic at the time used the astrological movements of planets to forecast events, and wrote in a very poetic style. Plus, of course, we can look back and gauge the accuracy of the predictions. But, all that aside, there’s another reason why they’re so interesting: they provide a glimpse of life in the 1890s.

Recurring themes arise which point to the affairs that occupied the nation at the time. The poverty in Ireland, the continued denial of home rule, and political wrangling between the European powers are mentioned repeatedly.

Poverty in Ireland can be traced right through the decade’s predictions. For instance, the 1890 predictions pointed out that “our unhappy peasantry are still fleeing away in thousands from the finest country under the sun.” By 1893 the situation was little changed: “Hitherto, stalwart Irishmen swelled the ranks of John Bull’s armies, but this great auxiliary has ceased, as owing to the intense privations and wholesale emigration (as the brutal London Times so often boasted) of the brave Celts, they are now gone with a vengeance!

A labourer’s hut in Gweedore, Co. Donegal, following the family’s eviction from their previous
home. Photograph by Robert French , circa 1888-1890. From the National Library of Ireland’s
Lawrence Collection

Even at the end of the decade, it seems nothing had improved. Old Moore’s prediction for June 1899 claimed that “the measures taken to combat the fearful destitution that still exists in this country, not half sufficient and people still bordering on starvation. When will our poor impoverished Celts have the management of their own affairs?

Politically, the main gripes appear to be the split in the Irish Parliamentary Party following Charles Stewart Parnell’s divorce, and the British government’s refusal to grant Ireland its own parliament. According to our psychic’s January 1892 predictions, “the New Year finds the Nationalist ranks in Ireland still divided; would to God they would forget past differences and unite against the ruthless foe!

In 1895, he pointed out that “both political parties roughly in accord in indefinitely postponing the just demands of Ireland. Our parliamentary members should now unite in combatting the common foe.” And, his predictions for August 1897 included this gem: “Tory and Whig are alike chuckling at the success of their do-nothing policy towards Ireland.”

The predictions also reflect relations between the European powers. This was a time, later referred to as “the scramble for Africa,” when rival powers sought to dominate Europe and the wider world. Our psychic’s prediction for September 1893 suggested an uneasy peace was at play: “still great confusion in European political affairs… the tocsin of war may at any time be sounded.

A prediction for January 1897 warned “the tottering Ottoman empire the great bone of contention between the dominant European powers; John Bull (Britain) and the Great Bear (Russia) being long at loggerheads about the sharing of the spoils.” The Ottoman Empire had been growing weaker for years, and some British politicians considered an orderly breakup of the empire would be the best way to reduce competition between European powers.

A prediction for May 1899 referred to “the Kaiser’s and the Tsar’s secret coquetting, with the view of depriving their neighbour John Bull of his boasted supremacy of the sea.” This reflected a genuine rivalry that existed at the time over naval prowess and mastery of the seas.


As for the accuracy of the predictions themselves, Old Moore certainly nailed a few! 1890 was the year that Charles Stewart Parnell met his downfall by way of involvement in the divorce of Kitty O’Shea and indeed, our psychic foretold “much scandal in high places” in the month of July 1890. Parnell died on 6th October of the following year, so his may very well have been the “death of one high in rank” predicted for September 1891.

Charles Stewart Parnell, hero of the Home Rule movement until his downfall in 1890

In his predictions for September 1893, our psychic said, “the beautiful Venus’s conjunction with the crafty Saturn in Libra, reminds us that there is another powerful factor besides the House of Lords, most bitter against the granting of a native parliament to Erin.” That very month the House of Lords rejected the Second Home Rule Bill, which had passed in the House of Commons earlier that year. Of course, our psychic was referring to the fact that the House of Lords was controlled by the Conservative party, whose loyalty to the Unionists saw them deny Ireland its coveted Home Rule status.

In terms of the wider world, a prediction for November 1891 warned of a “great naval disaster, shipwrecks and loss of life.” Sadly, that  very month a British navy torpedo cruiser ran aground in a storm, killing 173 of the 176 people on board. In his predictions for July 1899, our psychic reported that “Mercury’s superior conjunction with the sun on 1st May brings tidings of dire import from some of our colonies in Southern Africa.” Just a couple of months later, the Second Boer War broke out between Britain and the Boer States.

Of course, there are plenty more, but time and space prevent us from delving too deeply. However, if we’ve aroused your curiosity, you can check out the old volumes for yourself at the National Library of Ireland which holds copies of Old Moore’s going right back to the very first one. You should request copies in advance, either online or by phone at 01 603 0200. Alternatively, let us do the hard work for you: join us as we look back at Old Moore’s Almanac 1914 or find out how it all began way back in 1764.

We’ll finish with our psychic’s prediction for December 1899 in which he displayed a cautious optimism for the new century: “Dear old 1899 is now all but gathered within the dim past, and the dawn of a new century is fast at hand. Erin benefitted little throughout the passing year. True, she has received a small instalment of her rights, the Local Government Bill; so let us hope that ere the departure of the born year, we shall see our own domestic parliament sitting in College Green. God save Ireland!” Indeed.

Harvest Time’ circa 1897 from the National Library of Ireland’s Lawrence Collection Irish Life series


Solutions to riddles (all from Old Moore’s Almanac 1890)

Enigma Solution: A note
Charade Solution: Home Laws
Rebus Solution: Victory

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