The back of the Barracks

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XXIII (12) | Start of Chapter

I stumbled my way back of the barracks, and opened a door, and a tidy looking woman received me very coldly by saying, "We never turn people out of doors. But why are you here so late? Why didn't you stop back? Are you travelling alone?" By this time my patience was departing, and I answered, "Do you keep lodgers? and can you keep me?" "We never turn folks out of doors." "I do not suppose you turn people out of doors, if you put out a sign to ask them in." The master heard this, stepped into the room, and quite in Irish mood bade me welcome, though he was an Englishman. "Sit down, and make yourself as comfortable as you can. We will do as well as we can for you." A clean bed was provided; two others, well filled, were my companions, but never was rest more refreshing. The next day was rainy, and I employed my time reading, writing, and listening to the music of two fiddlers, who told me they were employed by gentlemen to amuse them at their houses. So fond are the Irish of music, that, in some form or other, they must and will have it. A piper entered on a wooden leg, and called for a glass of whiskey, which the daughter gave him, and feeling a little jealous lest the fiddlers might be thought more than rivals, he gave such proofs of dexterity as put all to silence. "We live so remote," said the man, "that these little droppings now and then on a rainy day make the time pass very pleasantly. In fact, I don't know how we should get along without them. It's nature, you see," holding a granddaughter of eight months' old upon the floor to see her dance. "You see, ma'am, they'll dance before they can walk."

Ireland’s Welome to the Stranger is one of the best accounts of Irish social conditions, customs, quirks and habits that you could wish for. The author, Mrs Asenath Nicholson, was an American widow who travelled extensively in Ireland on the eve of the Great Famine and meticulously observed the Irish peasantry at work and play, as well as noting their living conditions and diet. The book is also available from Kindle.