Costume of the Peasantry

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter V (17) | Start of Chapter

The fair, as a whole, was not censurable; never on any public day in any country had I heard so little profanity and noise, or seen so little disorder and disputing, the tinkers excepted. The peasants, too, were tidily dressed, and with great uniformity; the men in blue coats, corduroy breeches, and blue stockings; whilst a blue petticoat, with a printed dress turned back and pinned behind, coarse shoes, and blue or black stockings, (when they have shoes) a blue cloak, with a hood to put over the head, in case of rain, constitute the dress of the women; and thus attired, a Kilkenny peasant seeks no change in storm or sunshine. The habits of cooking and eating have scarcely varied for two centuries; their cabins, their furniture, have undergone little or no change; the thatched roofs, the ground floor, the little window, the stone or mud wall, the peat fire, the clay chimney, the wooden stool, the pot, and the griddle, have probably been the inheritance of many generations. As to cleanliness, their habits are varied, as with all other people; and if few are scrupulously tidy, few are disgustingly filthy. Though every peasant in the Emerald Isle knows that he belongs to the "lower order," (for his teachers and landlords are fond of telling him so,) the Kilkenny rustic, by his self-possessed manner in presence of his superior, says, "I also am a man;" and you do not see that cringing servility; you do not hear "yer honor," "yer reverence," "my lord," and "my lady" so frequently as among many of their class in other parts of Ireland. They are not so wretchedly poor as many; for though few can afford the "mate," except at Christmas or Easter, yet most of them can purchase an occasional loaf, and "the sup of tay," and all can, and all do, by "hook or by crook," get the "blessed tobacco." They are fond of dancing, and a child is taught it in his first lessons of walking. The bagpipes and fiddle are ever at their feasts, especially the latter; and the blind performer always receives a cordial "God bless you." The sweet harp has long since lost her strings, except perhaps in some ancient family, and there it is nursed as some valued plant, and kept as a memento of ancient Tara's halls.

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.