Cabin Life

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VI

Cabin LifeUrlingford SpaRebuff from a ClergymanNew Birmingham CollieryVillage of GrangeThe PoliceA Good MethodistMr. Barker of KilcooleyYankee DoodleResidence in the NeighborhoodVisit to ThurlesAncient Abbey of Holy CrossJourney to Clonmel, Dungarvan, and CappoquinVisit to the Trappist Monastery of Mount Mellary

The habits of cabin life and cabin hospitality have so much sameness, that the specimen which follows may answer for the whole.

I had walked much through the day, and about seven in the evening reached the cabin of a woman whose daughter had been a servant in my house in New York. My reception was most cordial.

In a corner, where a bed might have stood, was a huge bank of turf, and a pile of straw for the pigs.

There was but one room beside, and the family consisted of some five or six individuals.

The cabin door being open, the pigs, geese, ducks, hens, and dogs walked in and out at option.

After the usual salutations, the girl was bidden to go out and dig some potatoes; the pot was hung over the fire, the potatoes were boiled, and the table was removed into the adjoining room, and a touch from the finger of the matron was the signal for me to follow her into supper.

On a naked deal table stood a plate of potatoes and a mug of milk, of which I was invited to partake. The potatoes must be eaten from the hand, without knife, fork, or plate; and the milk taken in sups from the mug.

I made no delay, but applied my nails to divesting the potatoe of its coat, and my hostess urged the frequent use of milk, saying, “it was provided on purpose for you, and you must take it.”

It must be remembered that a sup of sweet milk among the poor in Ireland, is as much a rarity and a luxury as a slice of plum-pudding in a farm-house in America.

I ate plentifully, both from hunger and courtesy, and we then returned to the kitchen.

The good man of the house soon entered, and gave me as hearty a welcome as an Irishman could give; and the neighboring women and children gathered in, till the pile of turf and every stool was occupied.

A cheerful peat fire was burning upon the hearth; the children were snugly cowered in each corner; two large pigs walked in, and adjusted their nest upon the straw; two or three straggling hens were about the room, which the women caught, and raising the broken lid of a chest in one end of the apartment, she put them in; the dog was bidden to drive out the geese; the door was shut, and the man then turning to me, said, “You see how these pigs know their place, and when it's a little cowld not a ha'porth of 'em will stay out of doors; and we always keep a handful of straw in that corner for their bed.”

The company seemed quite inclined to stay; but the good woman, looking well to my comfort, called me at an early hour to the next room, and pointing to a bed which had been erected for my accommodation, said, “This troop here would be talking all night; ye must be tired, and see what I've got for ye.”

This was a bed fixed upon chairs, and made so wide that two could occupy it; and she assured me that so glad was she to see me, that she would sleep in a part of it by my side.

It was certainly an extra extension of civility to leave the good man, who, by the way, had two daughters and a son of sixteen to sleep under the same covering, and in the same room with us.

His bed was made of a bundle or two of straw spread upon rough sticks, and a decent woollen covering put over it.

My bed, so far as sheets were concerned, was certainly clean, and in a few moments the kind woman and her husband and children were quietly laid to rest for the night.

When all was still, a half hour of profitable reflection prepared me for a sweet night of rest.

In my own native land I had slept under rich canopies, in stately mansions of the rich, in the plain, wholesome dwelling of the thrifty farmer, the log-cabin of the poor, and under tents on the hunting-ground of the Indian, but never had I been placed where poverty, novelty, and kindness were so happily blended.

I fell asleep, nor did the barking of a dog, the squealing of a pig, or the breathing of man, woman, or child arouse me, till I heard, at sun-rising, “Well, Maggie, how are ye this mornin'? D'ye know I was lonesome without ye.”

“God be praised,” responded the good woman, “and I hope ye are well, Johnny.”

I looked into the Castle at Windsor, where Prince Albert, Victoria, and the young princes were reclining, and I very much queried whether their feelings were more kindly or more happy this morning, than were those of these unsophisticated peasants.

Now for the breakfast. The good man and the children had eaten their potatoes before I left the bedroom; and when I went out, “Maggie,” said the husband, “will ye do as I desired ye?”

“To be sure I will,” said Maggie, putting her cloak over her head, and going out.

Giving me “God bless yez,” and tendering his best thanks, he said, “I must go into town and leave ye; God speed ye on yer journey, and bless ye, for coming to see the poor.”

An hour passed before Maggie returned, for she had ditches to cross and hedges to pass, to get a piece of bread for the “American stranger.”

The table was spread with bread, butter, a cup of tea, and a sup of milk. The tea and butter I declined, (as I do not use these articles), but the bread and sup of milk made me a comfortable breakfast.

When I had finished, and the women and children had called in from abroad, to say good-bye to the “American stranger,” my kind hostess said, “I must show ye to the road, which will save ye a good bit; for I love ye as well as I do my own gal that sarved ye.”

The walk was long and somewhat difficult, but the kindness and cheerfulness of my good guide made it quite tolerable.

After setting me in a straight course, she said, “And the good God bless ye, and speed ye on yer return to your own country, and bless ye well, the cratur! for comin' to see us.”

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.