Dialogues on the Road

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VIII (3) | Start of Chapter

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 minut 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 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?"

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.