Bright Wood Fire

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XXI (16) | Start of Chapter

The rain would make the difficulty of getting through the swamp greater, and I waded on. A cottage appeared, but they did not take lodgers. This was the third night in four that I had been deceived in respect to lodging-houses, and began seriously to think that Kerry archness had been gratifying its cunning on me. The astonished family could give me no "tay, nor no bread, but," said the master, "the night and the rain are heavy on ye, and the walk is seven long miles to Killarney; ye would be destroyed, an' we'll give ye a bed." The cottage had a stone floor; a bright wood fire was blazing, the floor and hearth were nicely swept, and no astral lamp shone brighter than did that pleasant fire. The sweet days of childhood, when the green mountains and valleys of Vermont were my home, when brothers and sisters had assembled around the glad fireside, rose in review.

"I thought of the days of other years, and my soul was sad."

Never in Ireland had an evening of such welcome sadness been mine. A pot of black minion potatoes were prepared for me, while the family waited to boil those of an inferior quality for themselves. This was genuine cabin hospitality. They had a few choice potatoes reserved for planting, and some of these must be provided, because the stranger must not have an inferior article. We talked of Dunloe, of Killarney, and of Hyde Park, the owners of which had all gone down to the dust. "But," said the man, "had you seen the rector of Hyde Park, he was the one that the people loved; he was so kind to the poor and sick, not a hap'orth of a cabin in all the parish but his fut was in; and though he was a Protestant, yet he sarved the Catholics with as many a good turn as he did his own; and when he died, wasn't there the lamentation! His people, ye must know, won't have the Irish cry when their dead is buried, but not a dry cheek was there that day; and when they brought out the body for the hairse, not a hap'orth of the Catholics would let 'em do it, but said they would carry it on their shoulders, and so they did. Aw, the like o'him warn't in all the country."

A chaff bed with clean sheets was placed upon chairs by that pleasant fire, and an invigorating sleep prepared me for a fresh walk in the morning. I succeeded in leaving a few pennies when I went away, but regretted that I did, for the woman accompanied me out, saying, "An' sure d'ye think we've no heart for the stranger? An' wouldn't ye do the like for me in yer country?" She conducted me into a wood, where a beautiful cascade foaming down a precipice met my eye.

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.