Doctors differ

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XIII (5) | Start of Chapter

Again went to town to secure a passage, and found three intelligent young ladies, who were sisters, employed in acts of mercy for the poor, and who assured me that though reduced in circumstances, they should never be lowered in society, because descended from "high blood." "I acknowledged no high blood but the blood of Christ," was my answer. While stopping with these sisters, a summons arrived from no mean quarter, requesting urgently my appearance at the house of a high Protestant lady, full of zeal for the church and compassion for the poor. I went with a budget of sorrowfuls, to lay down at her feet, gathered from her suffering nation, but no sooner was I admitted, than the "tout ensemble" of the lady told me I had brought my parcel to the wrong shop.

"Madam, you are an American, I hear, and I have sent for you to learn from your own lips what brought you to this country."

"To learn the true condition of the poor Irish at home, and ascertain why so many moneyless, half-clad, illiterate emigrants are daily landed on our shores."

Inadvertently using the word oppression, I feared a retreat would be my only security.

"Oppression! So you have come to Ireland to stir the muddy waters, have you?"

"To look at them as they are, madam."

"Oppression! The Irish are not oppressed but by their nasty religion."

"But does their religion compel them to work for six or eight pence a day, and eat their potatoes on the side of a ditch? Does it compel them to reclaim a bog, for which they are paying twice the value, without the encouragement of a lease for their improvements? And does it compel them to pay a tenth for the support of a religion which they neither believe nor hear?"

The tempest was now at its height, and I only succeeded in adding, that had I dropped from the moon upon this island, without any previous knowledge, whether men or angels inhabited it, and surveyed these beautiful domains sprinkled over its surface, and seen the walking rags that by hedge and by ditch, in bog and in field, are covering the length and breadth of the land, I must have known that these fields had been "reaped down for naught."

A cessation of arms for a moment ensued to admit a visitor, who by her low courtly bow and long train told us she had dabbled if not dashed in high life. Seating herself in a corner, she listened with intense interest while the good lady resumed the subject, and remarked, that the poor in Wexford are both comfortable and happy. The stranger arose, and, with another low bow, said, "I must go, madam; the poor in Wexford are in a most suffering state: I have been this morning into the fishermen's cabins; the fishery has all failed, and they sit desolate and idle, without food or fuel."

This was an unexpected indisputable letting down of the whole argument, and at this loop-hole I made my escape, without an invitation either to stop longer or call again.

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.