Earlier I talked about Scottish Bare Feet and how going barefoot was quite common, particularly among women and children, until about 150 years ago.
Things were similar over in Ireland.
We get this description from “Ireland: its scenery, character, &c.”, an 1846 travel book by Mr. & Mrs. Samuel Hall:
In one dwelling, which we entered by chance, we found a woman habited in the dress of the district busily employed at her wheel, which though she turned with her bare foot, was in a neat room, lighted by a window that opened and shut, decently furnished—more than decently furnished, for a “jack-towel” actually hung on a roller behind the door, and the newly-made stairs leading to the loft were covered in the centre by a narrow strip of coarse carpeting. The young woman shook hands with both of us—a ceremony never omitted by these mountain peasants, when a stranger or an acquaintance enter their house.
After we had praised all we saw, especially a likeness of the good Father Mathew, which hung over the chimney, we ventured to inquire how it was that she, who evidently could so well afford it, did not wear shoes.
“Ah,” she replied, in half English, half Irish, “that is what all English quality say; but his honour the captain, and Miss Mary know better than that. Shoes would give me my death of cold. I could afford one pair or two, and some stockings. If I go out, to look after a pig, or fowl, or to cross to a neighbour, I cannot go forty feet without getting wet beyond my ancles. If I have shoe and stocking, I must change them, or sit in them. I could not afford to have (like the English quality) so many pairs, then I must sit in the wet; but if I run out in my natural feet, all the time I’m on the batter, my feet though wet are warm, and the minute I come in I put them before the fire on the warm hearthstone, and they are as dry as the heart of a rush in a minute. Oh, lady, it is not because you get wet foot that you catch cold, but because you sit in wet foot. The good captain understands this now, but he did not at first.” Indeed we found this was considered to be reasonable, and though we can hardly separate even now, the idea of bare feet from poverty, yet we believe that in mountain districts, habituated as the peasantry are to go without shoes, the uncertainty of the climate, the necessity for herding cattle, traversing bog and long grass, and crossing rivulets, the fashion is not only wise but necessary. If anything could reconcile us to their appearance, it was the neat, well dressed, and orderly appearance of this woman; and afterwards we saw many in Glenfin who, despite their bare feet, would have been considered respectably dressed even in England. It is no uncommon thing to meet a group of mountain women and girls, washing their feet in a brawling river after sunset, just before they go to bed.
Such a sensible maiden.
And here is one of the illustrations of that from the book:
Farther back in time, bare feet were the order of the day for warriors. Here is a woodcut from around 1570 of six Irish Chieftans, during the reign of Elizabeth I.
By the way, “Drawn After the Qvicke” means drawn from live subjects, since “live” was the original meaning of “quick”. The “quick” of your fingernail means the living part, and the phrase, “the quick and the dead” originally meant “the living and the dead” (makes more sense that way, doesn’t it?).
It’s really not too surprising that bare feet would be prevalent in Ireland and Scotland. Because of the warm Gulf Stream (and North Atlantic Drift), Ireland and Scotland stay much warmer than their latitude would suggest. We see a similar situation on the west coast of North America, where the places like Olympia and Vancouver stay warmer (and wetter), this time from the Japan Current. Interestingly, because of that, the Native Americans who lived there also went predominantly barefoot.