University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The History Collection

Nicholson, Asenath, 1792-1855 / Ireland’s welcome to the stranger; or An excursion through Ireland, in 1844 & 1845, for the purpose of personally investigating the condition of the poor (1847)

Previous Previous section

Next section Next



Nunnery at Thurles—Monks’ School—Dialogues on the Road—Grateful Reflections—Nocturnal Alarm—Affecting Incident—A Gay Consumptive—Parting from True Friends—A Jolly Company—Lamentation on Lying—Walk to Roscrea—A Weariful Woman—A Centennarian—Charity Sermon—A Christian Sister—A Poor House—Visit to a Great Brewer—A Funeral—Father Mathew—Remarkable Vivacity of the Irish—Self Denial—Short Commons——A Snug Protestant Farmer’s Household—Cool Reception.

At eight o’clock in the evening, I was again by the table of Mr. B, in Thurles; and next morning entered a nunnery, and was shown all the apartments, the chapel, and the beautiful garden, which, as one said, “is all the world to us; here we live, and here we are as happy as we can be in this life.” “I hope you will yet be a Catholic,” said one kindly to me, as we passed out; “it is the only true church.”

They appeared to be well informed on American affairs, and very intelligent. They have a school of girls, and many of them Protestants.

“What,” I asked, “do you do about their religion?” “Oh, we don’t interfere with that.”

The monks have a school of boys, who are taught all branches requisite to the duties of life, and at a suitable age are apprenticed to places where they still keep   [p. 139]   an eye over them. If any are ungovernable, after the third complaint by the master, the monks take him away, and throw him upon his own resources. If the master is too severe, he is removed to a better one.

The car left me at Thurles, and leaving my carpetbag, I set out to walk to Urlingford, a distance of ten English miles, and it was now two o’clock. It was a profitable walk, and not a lonely one, for these simple-hearted people were meeting me at every corner, coming out from their cabins, and walking “a bit” with me; inquiring about America, and telling me of their country. One said, “We have a neighbor here from America.” He was called from a field and introduced; “I have a great partiality for the people in your country,” said he; “but I hate their cursed slavery, and left on that account. I lived with a planter who had four hundred slaves, to whom he gave a peck of corn each a week, and worked and whipped them hard. I could not bear it, and left him, and came away.” To the honor of the Pope, be it said, that he has prohibited slavery in the church. Passing on to a company of men cracking stones, I asked, “How much do you earn in the day?” “Ten-pence; and how do you think we can keep the breath a goin’ with this, ma’am, and put a rag upon the back? Would you give us a shillin’ in your country? If you would ensure me two pence more than I have here, I would start to-morrow. And do ye think we shall get the repale? They won’t let us fight, and, by dad, I would fight this minute if they would let me. We are oppressed to death by the English, and we can’t live much longer. What do they think in America?”

So anxious are these suffering creatures for the repeal, that they cannot let a stranger who speaks to them pass without asking the question. Such a specimen of self-control as they manifest, though many of them are keenly alive to their privations, is truly unparalleled in any nation. O’Connell now restrains them by a nod. Will he always be able to do so?

As I left these warm-hearted patriots, an old man   [p. 140]   told me I had three miles to walk, “and the night will fall on ye, but nobody ’ll hurt ye here, ma’am.” I had gone a little distance, when he called out, “Do ye belong to the army?” A little mortified, I begged he would not think I belonged to that craft. “I hope, sir, you have not a bad opinion of me?” “Oh, God forgive me. Pardon me, lady; I had not such a thought of you, ma’am.” I found that the wives of the officers accompanied them, and he thought I might be of the number. I had walked six and a-half miles; night had “come on me,” but the moon was now and then struggling through the misty clouds, when a man passed me upon a jaunting-car, and asked how far I had to walk. “You had better get up and ride; the way is lonely.” Gladly I did so, and found him a plain, common-sense farmer, who, going through all interrogations of America, and talking over the woes of Ireland, ended by asking, “Do you think we shall have the repale?”

I heard a kind welcome most gladly at the house of Mr. C. in Urlingford, and gave him a particular recital of Mount Mellary. Being a Catholic to the bone, he cannot but love such an establishment as this. He has ever treated me with kindness, and placed me under obligations for many little favors, which as a stranger were very grateful to my feelings. The remembrance of these kindnesses are sweet and salutary on a foreign shore, which none but a stranger can fully appreciate. I went next to Dr. White’s. Of this family I can never say enough. Never, never can I forget their unparalleled, unceasing good-nature, always in exercise; never with any display, but always as though they were obliged to me for accepting it. My food, my lodging, my fire, my walking or riding, must be all for my highest comfort. The kindness of this family was confined to no sect or nation, the rich or the poor. The beggar, too, had a kind welcome.

A few mornings after my return, at the dawning of day, I heard a loud knocking at the door, and supposed some messenger in haste had called for the doctor.   [p. 141]   This was followed by the most unearthly scream, which was long and repeated. I first tried to collect myself, to ascertain whether I was asleep, in the body or out, for nothing that was human like this had I ever heard; and surely nothing superhuman would make such a shout at a door inhabited by man. I looked out, but durst neither arise or call for help. The family and servants were all above; and when repeated yells had echoed and re-echoed, the servant opened the door, and all was still. I could not see what entered, and waited for an explanation, supposing there must be some out-of-the-way animal appended to the family. In a moment, the servant entered with, “Don’t be afeard, ma’am; it’s only the beggar woman that sleeps out of doors. She always comes at light to get the potatoe, and if I am not up, she makes that scream to wake me. She won’t hurt ye. She’s innocent, and goes away when she gets the potatoe.” This was the beggar I had seen asleep under the wall, when going to the mines. I ventured out, and saw her snugly sitting on the hearth, enlivening the turf under the pot. She was more than good-looking for a woman who must have been forty-five, and seventeen years of which she had buffetted storm and sleet, snow and rain, in open air. She shrunk from my rude gaze. I said good morning; she made no answer.

“Why are you sitting here?” I added. “Waiting for the potatoe, ma’am.”

When the potatoes were ready, she selected the quantity and quality she liked, took them in her petticoat, and hurried out.

Her voice was soft, and her manners childlike, wholly at variance with the terrific scream she made at the door. The doctor gave me the history of this strange anomaly. “She was of a good family, married well, and in all Ireland,” he added, “there was not a better housekeeper. But her husband died, and by a train of misfortunes, she lost all. Her relations were treacherous, and she was at last ruined. Disappointed and jealous of the world, she determined to leave its   [p. 142]   society, and wandered from home, living on the little money she had; washing her clothes in the brooks and springs, as she met them; keeping herself cleanly for years; sleeping in open air, wrapped in her cloak, She appeared sane, but never saluted any one, nor never asked charity, till all she had was gone. Whether she had recourse to that noise as a defence was not known, but it proved a sure one. The police had endeavored to take her into some shelter from the rain, but every one would take up his ‘two heels,’ when she set up that scream. No one in the parish ever molested her; every child is afraid of the yell.” She had found her way to the doctor’s house years before, and he had made her welcome to a breakfast and dinner, and she now calls at the dawn of day. If the servant be not up, she gives the scream, and the door is soon opened. Twelve is her dinner-hour, and the time is always understood. She is losing her care over her clothes and person, though she is quite removed from the appearance of a dirty beggar. She never whines, nor tells you of the Blessed Virgin, or promises prayers; but simply asks, in a pleasant tone, “will you give me some potatoes?” She never stops to eat them in the house, but gives a short “Thank you,” and goes hastily out. This is “the beggar that sleeps out of doors,” and the rustic says to all who pass, “Don’t ye disturb her; for this same bawl would frighten the life of ye.”

The hereditary sufferings which have been transmitted from father to son, through many generations in Ireland, have developed every propensity of the heart in striking characters, and every variation of mind may be seen in one day’s walk, by an attentive observer—from strength to weakness, from love to hatred, and from right to wrong. “Do you wish to see a new object?” said Mrs. W——— , “step to the door.” Here sat upon the ground a young woman, with a sweet infant in her arms, her person genteel, her features peculiarly symmetrical; a placid blue eye, finely arched eyebrows, and a high smooth forehead,   [p. 143]   fair skin, and brown hair; a subdued voice, and of the gentlest manners. She approaches softly, often without speaking; and if a piece be offered, she sits down quietly, feeding the infant, which she always calls General, and of which she is peculiarly fond. While eating, she mutters to herself, often using the name of William.

“And who is William?” I asked. “He’s my husband, ma’am.” And is he kind to you?” “He is not, ma’am; he bates me.” “And for what does he beat you?” “Because I don’t bring him home more potatoes, ma’am.” This was spoken in the most childlike simplicity, and like one that had been chastised for an alleged fault which had never been committed.

Inquiring who or what she might be, her simple history was, that her husband was a brute, and had so misused her that she had become insane, but perfectly docile. He turned her upon the street daily, to beg her own bread and his food; and when she returned with a scanty supply, he flogged her, while she never resisted, nor upbraided him. As she adjusted her General upon her back, she muttered something about her William, touching the hearts of all with pity, and they could only say, “Poor thing! she is crazed.” And no wonder if the greater part of Ireland were crazed. Not a week since I have landed on these shores, but I have seen sufferers, should their tale be told, which would move the pity of the most unfeeling.

As I was inquiring one day of an old woman the distance to a place, “Ask the lady to walk in, and rest her a bit,” said the old man. I walked in, and found a cleanly swept cabin, a bed behind the door, and a little pile of turf and a couple of stools. The old man had his spade in his hand, and when I asked him what he had a day, “Not scarcely enough to give the sup and the bit, ma’am.” This emphatically tells the story of the manner of eating among all the peasantry. They take the potatoe in the hand, bite off a bit, and take a sup of milk from the cup. “Have you children?” “Not one at home. The last that staid with me was a   [p. 144]   fine lad of twenty-two. He was ailin’ a bit, and went to bed there, and slept well through the night; in the mornin’ he asked for cold water. There was none, and I said, ‘Wait and I will go to the spring.’ ‘You can’t go now; it’s too early,’ and turned away his face, and departed. That was the last of my boy, God be praised! and now the father and I are alone, and shall soon be with him, for ye see we are old, and toil’d many a wairy day to rair our lads, and now the wide waters or the grave separate us.” There was a kind of pathos in the old lady’s allusions, which savored of ancient days, when, as Cambrensis says in the twelfth century, “the Irish always expressed their grief musically”

When I returned to the doctor’s, I found among his beneficiaries a pale young girl of nineteen, interesting in her manners, who had come there with threatening symptoms of a decline. She possessed all the Irish vivacity, and though with a severe cough and husky voice, yet she was always in a cheerful mood; and her lively song and merry laugh told you that her heart was buoyant, though pain often held her eyes waking most of the night. Her voice was sweet as the harp, and often when I heard it at a distance, could not pursuade myself but it was a flute. She had stored her memory with the songs of the country, and her company was always acceptable among her class on account of this acquirement, as well as the power of mimicry, which she eminently possessed. She would screen herself from sight behind some curtain, and go through a play, performing every part, and sing with the voice of a man or a woman as the case might require. One night she had been amusing us in this way, when she appeared from behind the screen, and a marble-like paleness was over her face. I said to her, “I fear you have injured yourself.” She answered not, but sat down, and sung “The Soldier’s Grave” in so pathetic a manner, that I wished myself away. They were sounds I had heard in my native country, but never so touching, because the voice that made them was so young, and probably soon would be hushed in death.   [p. 145]   Even now, while writing, I hear her sweet voice humming a tune in the chamber where she sits alone in the dark. She is of humble birth, and her mother is a widow, and she has had no assistance of education to raise her above the poorest and most ignorant peasant; yet nature has struggled, or rather genius, through many difficulties, and placed her where, even now, she appears to better advantage, than many who have been tolerably educated; but the flower is apparently drooping, and must soon fall from the stem. Yet she will laugh and sing on, even when those about her are weeping at her premature decay. Last evening a dancing-master came in with a little son, each of them having a fiddle; and the music and dancing commenced. Mary (for that is the invalid’s name) was asked to dance and complied; and with much ease and grace performed her part. This no doubt she would not hesitate to do, while her feet could move, and she knew there was but a week between her and the grave. From childhood she has been taught to practice it, till it is interwoven in her very nature, and has become part and parcel of herself.

Again I must leave these people and this family, and take a tour to Roscrea; and everything was done to make the journey comfortable. A car and driver were provided to take me twenty miles, which was the distance, free of expense. “You will come back to us,” said the doctor and his wife, “and you shall always find a welcome home, and wish we could do better.” “Why is it,” I said, as I passed from the sound of these kind voices, “that such favors should be shown to me by these strangers who had never seen me, while many were looking on me with suspicion, and wondering what strange fancy should have brought me here?” They manifested no fear about my heretical Protestantism, though I talked freely, and read the Scriptures in their hearing many a time. They conducted me to the Protestant church, showing me the way, and then turned to go to their own. I felt that their liberality in opinion and conduct was quite a rebuke on many,   [p. 146]   who profess the guidance of the Scriptures and the teaching of the Holy Ghost.

A letter of introduction was given me to a sister of Mr. C——— of Urlingford, who lived six miles from Roscrea. A ride through a pleasant country, and on a good road, took us at sunset in sight of the spot where the letter was to be presented. The boy had seventeen miles to travel that night, and I sent him back when in sight of the town, and made my way through all sorts of company alone. A fair had been held, and happy was I to ascertain that among all the motley group, not one was staggering, not one was boisterous, or disposed to make disturbance. A “God save ye kindly, lady,” from every rustic, with his pipe, and pig and ass he purchased at the fair; and the women with their burden on their backs did the same. Could I fear from such a people as this?

I reached the house of the shopkeeper, and presenting my dread letter, was kindly received, and kindly entertained. The master had grown rich by dint of the best of management; his father, it is said, having given him a barrel of flour, telling him to make his fortune on that, which he did. He was a baker, now a thrifty shopkeeper. But I had a little cause of regret here, for I heard one evening loud talking and singing over head, and one of the sons apologised by saying a few friends had walked in to spend the evening by themselves. “Will you go up and see them? If you wish to see all Ireland, there is a part of it, and they will be proud to see you.” Without getting my answer, he went to the room, and told the company an American lady was wishing to see them. “Welcome, welcome. Bid her speed.” I entered, and found six men and two girls, who had been drinking till quite merry.

“What will ye have, lady? We are glad to see an American.” “I am a tetotaler, and wish you were all the same.” I soon found this was no place for exhortation. They had taken a little beyond the “moderation,” and when one cried one thing, and one another,   [p. 147]   I was quite glad to make my courtesy, after being told by an old man that, beggin’ my pardon, he believed I was a nonsensical woman, goin’ about the country. They all cried out, “A blackguard, she is a dacent body.” And I was glad to make my escape from this hornet’s nest; but my lecture to the family, when I went down, was still more unpalatable; for they sold the “good creature” moderately; and “what right had I to trouble myself?” seemed to be the feeling, when I was treated hospitably, though this was not said. Some unpleasant things followed, in which a servant was involved, which I regretted; for though she was blameable, yet she did as most servants do in all Ireland, and did as she was trained; and leaving all personalities out of the question, I would say, that the habit of teaching servants to say the “mistress is out,” and telling lies of convenience, leads to most serious consequences. And though this is not confined to Ireland, yet here it has full play; and not among Roman Catholics only—all, all are poisoned, and often have I found myself totally led wrong by some wink or inuendo from the mistress to the servant, and when I have admonished the servant, “What can I do? I must please the mistress, or lose the place.” The habit of deceiving, if it can be done adroitly, without detection, and answer the present demand, is not thought sinful by many from whom I should have expected better things. The lower order are always in the fault, when this habit is mentioned; but children and servants are what their mothers and mistresses make them, in most cases.

I was once seated at a dinner-table in a fashionable Protestant family; and the mother, who was a widow, had three young daughters at her side, when she entertained her guests with a recital of a cunning lie, deeply laid, which succeeded happily, in cautioning a young man to do better; and she ended by saying, “Did I not do it admirably? He never detected the lie; and don’t you think I am a good manager?” All answered in the affirmative, that it was most excellently done. The   [p. 148]   daughters joined in the acclamation, and all went off most flatteringly. The servant was in the room when part of this happy lie was related.

Is this a solitary case? I wish it were; but many of the like have I met all over Ireland. I speak not in anger, but in kindness. It is a dangerous evil; an evil which, when diffused through society, is a fatal blot upon the character; and here let me beg you not to deceive yourselves, supposing that it is confined to Protestants or Romans, higher or lower order; it is everywhere.

In the city of New York, some five years ago, the female members of a congregation appointed a meeting to agree that they would employ no more Catholic servants, because they were so intriguing, and their children, who must be in contact with them, were learning to be deceptive and be liars. Thus these girls must lose their places, because they practised what they had supposed was praiseworthy. When I mingled in society in this country, I could see no difference in any religion or party; I found, to my sorrow, all were implicated, with exception of some few families, and the peasantry of the mountains. “Where is boasting then? it is excluded.”

Pardon this digression, and pardon this preaching. It is not my ill-will towards Ireland, but my good-will; it is not my hatred, but my love, that makes me speak thus. I would that she had not a stain upon her garments. I would that all I have said on this point were an error.

“But you would be a very unsafe guest,” said a shrewd lady, very much given to this fashionable intrigue, “if you are seeing and exposing these habits.” Unsafe indeed! unsafe! I cannot sympathize with such unsafety. I never was afraid any stranger would come in contact with myself and servants, lest they should detect our intrigues. The family where I was stopping had treated me kindly, and had done no uncommon wrong; but I ventured to tell them the wrong, which was certainly taking great liberty as a guest; and I would not place them behind any family of the gentry   [p. 149]   in activity in business, hospitality to the poor, thrifty management, and respectability, as the world has baptized it.

After this night’s encounter I made myself ready to depart, having staid a day longer than I intended; and I left at an early hour, to walk six miles to Roscrea. My kind friends sent a boy with an ass and car to carry me, which overtook me in sight of the town. I was fatigued; a hill was before me, and a mile to the place. I got upon the car; the obstinate ass absolutely refused to receive and carry the burden. In spite of the beating of the boy, and the kind coaxing of myself, he was as obstinate as an ass still; and I left the wayward brute and boy to manage as they liked, and walked into the romantic town of Roscrea, among ruins of castles, abbeys, &c., some built by the Danes, some in the year 1200, and all going to decay. The people here appeared better dressed; the women wearing bonnets and shoes more generally, and their gowns not pinned up.

Protestants, Catholics, and Methodists, have their churches here, and I was told that tolerable good feeling exists among them all. Being detained by rain in the house where I lodged, I had opportunity to see a little more of domestic life in a Protestant whiskey-house. The old lady had some higher notions of cleanliness than all her Irish neighbors, saying she had caught them by travelling in England. She was lame, and could not walk; but for the poor servant’s sake, I could have wished the lameness were in her tongue. This servant she employed for the paltry sum of four shillings a quarter, leaving her to make out the remainder by the low practice of begging from lodgers and guests. Whether this poor girl was at work or at play, doing right or doing wrong, all was the same; she always went out when she should stay in, and stayed in when she should be out. She was young, unused to service, and “tremblingly alive” to please her mistress, but never succeeded. This woman was Solomon’s “continual dropping in a very rainy day.” It was a cold   [p. 150]   wet day; I could not stay in a fireless room, and was obliged to see all that passed. When any one called for a dram, lame as she was, with a soft voice and happy smile, she would hobble to the whiskey room, and fill a glass.

It was a market day, and a goodly company of five came in, and made the cleanly kitchen a depót for their market lumber, much to the annoyance of the old lady; who, though she pleasantly invited them, yet wondered how they dared be so impudent the moment they had gone out. But at evening, when this family came in, and the father asked the mother what she would drink, and what he should get for the children, it was lovely indeed. The mother drew near this gate of death, taking her children, notwithstanding all my entreaties to leave them out of the gulf, and the children all declaring they did not want it. But the father said his children should fare as well as he did, and so all swallowed the liquid fire together.

Finding I was from America, the good man invited me to his house, for he intended selling off, and going there; and the boys said they would have the lumpers boiled at seven o’clock on the following Monday, if I would walk the five miles to enjoy them. This I promised to do if possible, and said good night. “A fine family, that,” said my lame hostess; “he is a great farmer, has some hundreds in the bank, and if he goes to America, he don’t go empty handed.” So much for the salutary effects of the whiskey on the kind heart of the old lady, towards this annoying family.

The next day was the Sabbath, and I inquired for the clean Testament which the good woman had told me, the day previous, had always been kept clean. It was locked in a drawer, and the good woman, after considerable fixing, prepared the key, and produced the tidy-kept book. It certainly spoke well for cleanliness, for a leaf had not been ruffled, nor a page sullied by the wicked finger of man or woman. It had been as securely kept as the Roman Catholic man, in a neighboring parish, told me he kept his—he “tied a   [p. 151]   string about it.” When I had carefully used this treasure, it was locked up again, and I saw it nor its precepts any more, till I left the house.

Among the crowds that returned from early mass, was an old woman of one hundred, quite sprightly, and who never fails of being every morning early sitting on the gallery steps; and as passengers go in, they drop a little into her hand. I found many old people in this town, as well as in all towns I had visited in Ireland; and not in any case had I found one who had lost his faculties.

I went to the Protestant Church alone, and was twice asked by the sexton if there was no person in the town with whom I was acquainted. “Not one,” I answered. “Not any one?” “No, sir, not any one,” at the same time telling him where I lodged. “I will put you in his seat then.” O! what a thousand pities I had not borrowed a gold ring!

The sermon was a charity one, and the introduction an encomium on the Christianity of the English; her disinterested benevolence, that though she was particular to gather her own brood, yet she was willing that all should have the benefit of her wings; that all denominations, though not of her church, were receiving bountifully of her kindness. Some wicked intruder whispered in my ear, that moment, “tithes! tithes! take all the poor unbeliever has; but pay me my tithes.” He ended his sermon beautifully and scripturally by saying, that nothing at the last day would be accounted as benevolence, but what was attended with self-denial. The landholders, he said, would have a great account to give; for his part he would rather be a beggar than be rich, and have a heart to join house to house and field to field, instead of giving to the poor, and “dispersing abroad.” Excellent theology! if Mene Tekel be not written on the practice.

When I returned from church, some potatoes were crisping on a nice gridiron for me, which the father had put there. A son of twenty-five was called in to dinner, and told his mother that the old jackass, his   [p. 152]   father, had taken the best gridiron to crisp my potatoes, and utterly refused taking any dinner on that account. He staid in the kitchen while I ate my potatoes, with his back towards me. What were the peculiar virtues of this gridiron I did not learn; but, by way of apology, the mother told me that this “old jackass” was a stepfather.

Monday morning, rose at five, to meet my engagement with the boys, where the lumpers were to be in readiness, and bade my hostess adieu, with her scolded servant and hopeful son, whose every look and action reminded me of Solomon’s rod, the nicely kept Testament, and the bar of whiskey, and I said, on going out,

“I would not live always, I ask not to stay,”

if I must stay in a tabernacle like this. The rain poured, and passing a few doors, I was spoken to by a daughter-in-law of my hostess, who invited me to stop a few days; this was an unexpected kindness. She belonged to the society of Christian Brethren, and seemed to understand the gospel principle of treating strangers, better than many who are sitting under the teaching of learned theologians. “I have staid,” she said “in the Protestant church, which had the ‘form without the power,’ till I could stay no longer.” She visited with me in the houses of those of like faith, whom I found very spiritual; but I fear in danger of running into the same error that others in America of their belief have done, viz. that of being so afraid of the law, as having no law at all. Father Mathew, they said, had been a great curse; because all he did was under the law; and they really regretted he had ever been among them; though some families had had more bread, they acknowledged. And I was severely rebuked for wishing to see him; and, as a Christian, I had no right to have anything to do with him.

Had I never seen the hydra-headed monster, bigotry, before, I should have put myself on the defensive; but here, reader, the case is hopeless. With but   [p. 153]   one eye, one ear, and a darkened understanding, boasting heart, and half a dozen tongues, he has so much religion, he has none at all, or nothing that is tangible. He stalks through the earth wielding a rod of iron, and woe to the victim who comes in his way; boasting of being taught of God, he lacks the first principles of religion, viz., charity and humility, without which all is lost. But all such people have a certain race to run, and if the seeds of saving grace are sown in their hearts, this grace will sooner or later break off the fetters. I said no more of Father Mathew, but went to hear him two days in succession.

What a pity, pity, that the reasoning faculties of the Irish as a nation have been left so uncultivated, and that instinct and impulse have so powerful an ascendancy. But above all, what a miserable religion is it that does not humble but exalt the possessor!

Thursday—Walked away from the town, and unexpectedly made my way to the poor house—everything in order, everything in keeping—a healthy spot, and good fires enlivening the hearths of the old people, which appeared more like luxury than poverty. But the constant complaint of all in these houses, when they can be heard by strangers, is the “thinness of the stirabout, and the want of the tay and tobacco.” An old female confined to her bed looked entreatingly upon me, to whom I said, “You are nearly home, ma’am.” “O!” she answered, “I have offended God, and what shall I do?” She appeared in great agony of feeling, knew she must soon die, and afraid of the judgment, I pointed her to the blood that cleanseth from all sin. Instantly a woman came behind me, and rudely called out, pulling me at the same time, “Come out of this place,” hurrying me on. As soon as we were out of the room, she begged a few pennies, changing her disgusting tone to one of softness and supplication. “Shame!” said I, “that you should rudely draw me away from that pitiful old woman, to beg.” Knowing that the inmates are not allowed to ask charity, as they are constantly living upon it, I declined,   [p. 154]   and asked her how she should dare to take such liberties. This custom of begging is so prevalent, that I can find neither nook nor shade where to be safe, except in the middle of a sermon; they will follow you to the church door, and be on the spot when you come out.

Friday—I went to see a ruined antiquity, two miles from the town, and the walk to it was more like Elysian fields than that of commonplace earth and water. Here were the seats of the wealthiest landlord, fitted up in the most elegant style, and the miserable cabins of the poor full of woe. Here was one of the most extensive distilleries still in operation in all Ireland, and Father Mathew has a large field yet to occupy.

Calling in at the house of an Englishman, who was an extensive brewer, I found him in his parlor, with a well dressed sister from London, and was introduced to them as an American lady. “I never saw but one American lady,” said the sister, “and she was very wealthy; but the most ignorant, unlearned creature that I ever saw that was well dressed.” “Alas for my ignorant countrywoman!” I sighed, “and will you tell me what part of America was her residence?” “Halifax,” was the reply. Her brother seemed mortified, and a silence ensued, when it was broken by my saying, that sorry was I to say, that all the British colonies were in a pitiful state as far as education was concerned, and that whoever visits them in the Canadas, will find that but few comparatively are educated of the native inhabitants. She was silenced, and should have blushed at her own ignorance of the geography of the country; for she actually thought Halifax belonged somewhere in the United States. I am truly disgusted at so much national pride as is everywhere met with in travelling, and when I feel any for my own, it is only in self-defence. The conceited boasting of those who have never read anything but a prayer-book, and never travelled beyond the smoke of their own chimney, is truly annoying.

Saturday evening a funeral passed, and I joined the   [p. 155]   procession, and followed it into the chapel yard. The corpse was carried around the chapel, and then brought back to the corner where the grave was prepared. A gilded coffin, with a lid put over like a band-box, was a novelty quite unlike the snug mahogany one, screwed closely down, with a plain plate upon the top, which I had been accustomed to see. I expected and even hoped to hear the Irish howl; for when the corpse was let into the grave, the poor old widowed mother, who had crept a mile from the poor-house on her staff, to see him buried, fell down upon her face, and gave the most piteous cry. Another old woman rushed towards her, calling out, “Stop, ye are goin’ to do what nobody does now. Get up and stop the bawlin’.” She was pulled up, and by force dragged away to a seat, and told peremptorily by a man to stop her crying. “Ye can’t bring him back, and what’s all this bawlin’ about what ye can’t do?”

“That is the very reason, sir,” I said, “why she weeps; because she cannot bring him back; let her give vent a few moments to her grief, and she will be relieved.”

Turning to her, I asked, “Is this your only son?” “One little boy I have with me in the poor-house, ma’am. It is hard for mothers to see their children die.”

She was calm in a moment, and sat pale and silent till all was over. The daughter, of about eighteen, took the sheets with which the coffin was carried, into her chequered apron, and a spade which had covered with earth the coffin of her brother, and after all kneeling down upon the ground to pray for the soul of the departed a few moments, they went silently away.

Poor simple unheeded rustics! No “sable hearse or nodding plume” has honored your procession; no gilded mourning coach has brought the crippled greyhair’d mother to see this son of her love put in his narrow house; no richly attired friends stood by when the tumbling clods were rolling upon his coffin, to support her, and shed their crocodile tears at the loss of so   [p. 156]   goodly a child. No! she had the fearful sin of being poor; this alone must shut her out from sympathy, must not even let her weep. The sister, too, was implicated; this blot of blots, this foul disgrace of poverty was found on her. The homely apron which she toil’d to purchase must wrap the shroud, and her coarse laborious hands must lift the spade which covered the bosom of her brother.

At eight o’clock the next morning, Father Mathew gave a stirring scriptural discourse on the importance of temperance, proving from scripture, as well as from facts, the sin of using ardent spirits. The concourse was immense, so that they “trode one upon another.” At twelve o’clock he gave another address. His simple, unaffected manner carries that evidence of sincerity and integrity with it, that no one can doubt but he who loves to doubt. His unabating zeal is beyond all praise; yet at this late hour do I hear his name traduced by his countrymen, who are ascribing his object to a political one. Yet among all his traducers not one can be found who is an abstainer, whether he took the pledge from him or from some other one; and I should not hesitate to say that in all Ireland he has no enemies among the tetotalers; few among the drunkards; but many, many, among the moderate drinkers.

Monday morning he was again at the chapel, with hundreds of children urging their way, who

“Pluck’d his gown to share the good man’s smile.”

It was a lovely sight; angels could not weep at this—Not a child was frowned upon, though the crowd was pressing, so that with difficulty he made his way. Some of the little ones he took in his arms; on all heads he put his hand, within his reach. I ascended the gallery, and enjoyed an undisturbed view. A large circle was formed; in the enclosure of this circle were the children, kneeling down, clasping their hands, and lisping the pledge. Those who could not speak were carried in the arms of their mothers, and they, kneeling, repeated the pledge for them. Many a little one,   [p. 157]   when rising from its knees, did he raise in his arms, kiss and bless it, then send it out from the ring. Three hundred that day took a pledge to abstain from the use of tobacco in all forms. This dirty article he ridiculed, and begged of mothers to abstain from the shameful practice. Among all the motley group, not one child was heard to cry throughout the day, and they might continually be seen crawling on all fours, pushing their heads through the mass, to take the pledge, or make their way out from the circle. One little child of but two years and three months, when she took it, pushed her blue bonnet through the crowd, sprung to her feet, murmured in a sweet tone, “Fadder Matty,” running about the chapel, nor could she be stopped. She was caught up, but would not be hushed, and when her name was asked, it was “Fadder Matty,” till, by this continual chatter, she so attracted the attention of all, that she was carried from the chapel, and the song was heard till it died in the distance.

A few moments before four, the assembly broke up, and mothers and children ran after the good man, the mothers crying, “The baby, plase, wants the pledge.” The pledge was given to many a baby in the chapel yard, and on the street, till the coach, which was about starting, shut the kind-hearted man from their sight.

I succeeded to reach him through the crowd a letter of introduction, and only had time to say, “I hope to see you in Cork.” This was a day of great triumph to Father Mathew. “My hope, my strong hope,” he said, “is in the children; they never break the pledge; and if the rising generation can be saved, the great work will be accomplished.”

I had heard much of this man in my own country, but here I saw him, and must acknowledge he is the only person of whom I had heard much praise, who ever met the expectation given. He more than met it; he passed it by. He was farther removed from all that could render him suspected than I had supposed, and I was convinced that acquaintance must remove all honest distrust.

  [p. 158]  

Had the object of my visit to Ireland been to have rummaged castles and abbeys, old graveyards and bridges, for antiquities to spread before the public, the public (to say the least) must have said, “We have caught nothing.” Many and most of these things I did visit, but they left no other impression than to convince me that a powerful, religious, and intelligent people must have inhabited this island; and they urged me on to penetrate into bog and glen, mountain and cave, to see the remains of this people, to ascertain what vestiges are left of the high-toned greatness, the magnanimity of soul, the sweet breathing of poetry, and the overflowing tenderness of heart, which must once have pervaded this isle. I must not anticipate; but here will say, that if you will follow my zig-zag path through bog and heathy mountain, I will show you in these fastnesses, and among these rocks, a people on whom the finger of God has left an impress that cannot be misunderstood. If you get weary, we will sit down by some sparkling rivulet, and lave us in the purest and sweetest water that ever flowed, but the water of life proceeding from the throne of God. If you get hungry, some mountain Rebecca shall say, “come in, ye stranger, and take a morsel, and we will set ye on yer way.” Though not a torn leaf of the written volume of the word of God could be found, yet there emphatically this word is written, believed and practised.

Before leaving Roscrea, we will ascend to the top of the castle, and see the town. This ancient building is now used as a barrack. Dr. Downer, who politely showed it me, was well acquainted with its history, and observed, “you see what remains of its former greatness, and what a lesson it gives of the frailty of human grandeur.” Cromwell had been here; and though it is said the memory of the wicked shall rot, yet his is still flourishing in the hearts of all Ireland.

At night had full proof of Irish merriment, illustrated by half a dozen young men from the country,   [p. 159]   who had come into town to assist a man in digging his potatoes. Finding they had no where to lie down after the fatigue of the day, they ate their potatoes, “and rose up to play.” The dancing and singing were so boisterous, that they shook the cabin, and reached the ears of most of the neighborhood, who supposed they must be intoxicated. But all were tetotalers, and had not taken a drop; yet they never relaxed during the night, and the morning found them still in the same heart, though they had worked hard the preceding day, eating nothing but potatoes, nor slept any through the night. An Irishman, to whom the circumstance was related, answered, “The Irishman’s merriment begins at his christening, and ends only when he has been well waked.” It is even so. The poor Connaughtman, when at work for a rich landlord for four-pence a day, will eat his potatoe, sleep in a barn, he will sing and dance as merrily as the rich hunter about the lakes of Killarney.

A little incident occurred one morning, which egotism and boasting would forbid noticing, if both duty and inclination did not call for an acknowledgment of God’s never ceasing care over his creatures, especially to me in a land of strangers. A genteel tidy woman came into the house every morning, to assist for an hour or two, and get her breakfast. This woman was sitting by the fire, when a son of the landlady took up a pennyworth of bread which the poor woman had just bought, with a penny she had borrowed from his mother. He said, “Is this yours, Peggy?” “No matter, Mickey, you are quite welcome; take it—take it.” This was all she had for a breakfast for a daughter, who had walked thirteen miles the evening before from a place of service, to see the mother. I had gone to my room, and she entered. Seeing me, as she thought, a little sober; “And ma’am, I fear ye are fretted. Don’t fret; the Lord is good. It was never so dark with me as at this minute. My little slip of a gal is come, and I have no breakfast for her, and it’s hard, ma’am, to have a child come to ye, and not have   [p. 160]   a bit to give her to ate; and I have taken off my petticoat, and pinned a piece of flannel about me, and the good God have mercy on me, I don’t know what to do,” importuning me at the same time not to fret, the Lord would certainly take care of me. “But I have sixpence beside to pay for my rent, and the good God send it to me, or I shall lose my little cabin to-morrow.” When her face was turned about, the sixpence was put into her hand; in an ecstacy of joy, she fell upon her knees before the donor. This woman had been the wife of an officer, and had seen something of fashionable life, but had not lost that native heart-feeling which the uneducated Irish so eminently possess. In her concern for me, she forgot the application of her exhortation to herself; though she was fretting, she seemed not to know it. These Irish are a great anomaly to all but the Almighty: reader, remember the sixpence.

I was about departing for Galway, in hopes of finding some money in the post-office, which was to be sent there from Urlingford. This money was to come from America to Urlingford; I had but five shillings before the sixpence was paid, and the distance to Galway was more than seventy miles. On this four and sixpence I must sleep, and eat, and ride, unless I should walk. Should I not meet my money at Galway, I must walk back, making one hundred and fifty miles or more.

It was October 29th, when I resolved on leaving Roscrea, and walk to the Protestant friend, five miles on my way, where the boys were to have the lumpers prepared some mornings before. The road was very muddy; the good woman who was so obliged by the sixpence would go with me to carry my basket. Rain soon began to pour, and we returned. Sitting down, meditating what next could be done, John Talbot, a Quaker, entered, saying he had engaged a passage on a car of a friend, who would carry me to the spot where I wished to call. What could be brighter? the rain ceased, and I got upon the car with the Quaker and his lady, and quite soon enough reached the Protestant   [p. 161]   family, for the company of these friends was agreeable and instructive.

It was now nearly three o’clock, and making my way to the cabin, through a muddy lane, I met sights untold; but I will tell you what I can. There were two pigs, two dogs, two cats, and two batches of chickens just introduced upon the theatre of action, which were enclosed in a niche in the wall, and a huge pile of potatoes just poured upon the table for the workmen and children. A hole in the mud floor for the pigs and poultry to take their “bit,” wooden stools and chairs to sit down upon, and a pot not inferior in size to any farmer’s in Ireland. This was my friend’s kitchen, and these were the appurtenances, and this was the nice family whose money was in the bank, whose children were trained by a superior teacher, and whose virtues wanted no finish but tetotalism. I thought I saw a sly look from the Quaker, and a meaning reciprocation from the spouse, when I was extolling the farmer on the car.

When my thoughts were a little collected, I said, “Well, my boys, the lumpers, I see, are ready.” “They are for the workmen; father and mother are gone to Birr, and won’t be home till nine o’clock.” Birr was the place I had hoped to see before I slept; but it was now three o’clock, the road quite muddy, and the lumpers were not for me, and the father and mother gone. I resolved to test more fully the kindness of the Quaker, and entered his gate. “Thee had better stop, and rest thee till to-morrow; and then see thy friends.” It was most thankfully accepted. It would be useless to say that neatness and comfort abode here; the good housewife made her own bread, and baked it as bread should be baked. They were Quakers, and that one word, in every nation, comprises all this. A supper of comfort, with fresh apples upon the table—the first I had seen on a table in Ireland—a cheerful fire, and clean bed, made me almost forget that a wide ocean separated me from the privileges of home. But another day was in prospect; this day   [p. 162]   arrived, and taking my breakfast at seven, I hastened away, about nine, again to the thrifty farmer’s.

The night’s rest had made no improvement in the cabin; the keepers of it had returned, but so refined had they become, that the master, who was standing bolt upright, as if to guard the hole of the floor where the pigs breakfasted (for he was near it), told me as soon as I said “Good morning,” that the “mistress was out;” and so she was, for I saw her slide into a little room back of the outer door, as I entered. A short good morning ended the call. These things are not written to ridicule what could not be avoided, nor to expose faults which are and should be kept hidden; but they are written because they might be avoided, and should be censured; they are nuisances which no family, having the light of revelation and the benefits of decent society, should present to the world. They are a libel on the character of Him who is purity itself, and who abhors all that is filthy. Poor human nature!

Previous Previous section

Next section Next

Go up to Top of Page