Doctrinal Conversion is not all that is due to the Convert from Popery

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XXVI (12) | Start of Chapter

Having seen a number of the converts who had families, and could not read, I inquired of Mr. N. if they had Sabbath-schools for adults? "Not to teach them to read, but to read to them, and instruct them in the Scriptures." Are they not anxious to read the Word of God for themselves? I asked. He gave me to understand that it would be a difficult task. I then for encouragement referred him to a New York adult school of Irish, where many of the ages of forty-five, fifty, and even sixty, had been taught to read. I was afterwards told that this was considered an officious dictation, as though he was incapable of managing his own affairs.

A female now entered, whose silent, fixed stare and appearance altogether led me to suppose that she was some upper servant in the house; but when she seated herself opposite to me at the table, in presence of Mr. Nangle, her eyes still fastened on me, I knew that no servant would do this in a parlor in presence of her master, and ventured to break the silence by asking, "Is this Mrs. Nangle?" I certainly feared that an indignity had been offered Mr. Nangle by this question, but the answer, with its rude accompaniment, told me who she was, and my own insignificance in her presence. "What brought you here?" "Did you mean, madam, what brought me to Ireland, or what brought me to Achill?" "What brought you to Achill?" "I came to see the colony, and to hear from the founders of it, its progress and true condition, that I might tell to my own country what good work was going on in this remote island of the ocean." "Let me tell you that you came on very improper business." Mr. Nangle now walked silently out. Knowing that a "soft answer turneth away wrath," and that the Irish heart settles into kindness when its first effervescence has been flung off, I waited a little, and asked, "Is not the colony free of access to all strangers?" "Not without letters, madam."

"I have letters in my hand which Mr. Nangle has had; will you read them?" "I can read them if you want me to do so." "I do not, madam, for my own sake. I have not the least anxiety to change your opinion concerning myself." "Do you not think the Virgin Mary can do more for you than anybody else?" The question, with the tantalizing manner in which it was put, was so disgusting, that I hesitated whether to answer. I had never before been treated by any female with such vulgarity and so little courtesy.

I answered that the Virgin Mary could do no more than she could, if she had the spirit of Christ. The question was repeated, and the only answer I gave was, "If you wish to read my letters, here they are." She read one from a Protestant clergyman; handed it back, saying, "This, I suppose, is from a Jesuit." Taking the second, she read it, and pushed it across the table without speaking. After a short pause, she added, "You say you come to get information of the colony, and I should say you come to ask charity." "What occasion have I given for this supposition? Have I asked charity; does my apparel appear improper, or like a beggar?" "Your dress looks well enough." I arose, and said, "Mrs. Nangle, if these letters be true I would ask you, as you profess to be a Christian, should you like to be treated as you have treated me in your parlor this morning, or have your children treated thus?" "I hope my children will never go about the world carrying such letters as these."

I went out. The nurse was waiting at the door, and asked, "How were you treated? Ah! she has a stony heart, and I feared she would abuse you. Smiles are put on, good dinners got up, a fine story told of the colony when the quality come, while the poor servants are stinted and miserably paid." Though I could have no doubt but a woman so unlady-like and unchristian in her conduct as she had been that day, might be guilty of all this, I answered only by saying, "If you are not treated well, why not go away?" "Because I can get no money to take me home."

I reached Mr. Barrett's, and paused upon the steps, and though I could not see the whole colony, yet enough was in sight to show what the hand of industry had done, and I could not be so unjust as not to acknowledge heartily that much has been done, and well done, to make a barren waste a fruitful field. The neat white cottages and the pleasant road made a striking contrast with the hurdles about Molly Vesey's, and the paths around her domicile; but I do not speak sarcastically, when I say that the manners of the people in the shop where I waited, and in the parlor of Mr. Nangle, were not in so good keeping with Christian refinement as were those in the cabin of Molly. Pity, pity that Bible Christianity should ever have a counterfeit! That Christianity, which possesses such a life-giving power, which is pure, peaceable, long-suffering, condescending, disinterested, forgiving, given to hospitality, self-denying, kind, and courteous to strangers, how is it perverted by ambitious, proud worldlings in every generation! I had looked into the cabins of many of the converts in Dingle and Achill, and though their feet were washed cleaner, their stools scoured whiter, and their hearths swept better than in many of the mountain cabins, yet their eight pence a day will never put shoes upon their feet, convert their stools into chairs, or give them any better broom than the mountain heath for sweeping their cabins. It will never give them the palatable, well-spread board around which their masters sit, and which they have earned for them by their scantily-paid toil. These converts, turned from worshipping images to the living and true God, as they are told, holding a Protestant prayer-book in their hands which they cannot read, can no more be sure that this religion, inculcated by proxy, emanates from the pure Scriptures, than did the prayer-book which they held in their hands when standing before a Popish altar. They must be in the same predicament with that of a woman in America who had been a slave. At the age of forty she gained her freedom, went into a free state, and in a Sabbath-school there learned to read the word of God. One day she carried her Testament to the superintendant, asking him to show her the chapter beginning with, "Servants, be obedient to your masters." She soon returned, and in the simplicity of her heart asked if all the Testaments are alike. She was told they were. "But one verse, the last in the chapter," she added, "is not in my Testament. My master was a pious man, and every Sabbath he assembled the slaves and read this chapter to us, and the last verse was, And let the disobedient servant be whipped till his back is sore!"

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.