Education of the Lower Order

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XXII (9) | Start of Chapter

Our next excursion was to Ventry. Here is a colony of the new converts, with a clergyman at their head, who was once a Catholic priest. A pretty little village, and everything about it more inviting than otherwise. We visited the Protestant school, and here found a young lady teaching a class of promising young misses; but when we inquired if they were studying geography, as we saw maps hanging in the lower end of the room, the answer surprised my Protestant friend, Mrs. J——. "The maps are for the boys; these are the daughters of the lower order, and we do not advance them." "But have they not talents to be cultivated? and is not this a professedly Christian school, instituted by missionaries:" "It is," she answered; "but I must do as I am bidden. They are poor, and must be educated according to their station." Again I enforced the obligation imposed on us by Christ, to "occupy till he come." She did not understand me; and though she belonged to the Protestant Church, I could not see that her dark understanding had ever been enlightened by the Spirit of God, or that she was any more capable of teaching spiritual things than the Catholics about her whom she viewed as being so dark. We visited a few converts in the cabins, and I was afterwards cautioned not to go there again, as the clergymen had given them notice that they must not receive me into their houses.[18]

The next day we visited a school of the nuns. Here were more than three hundred of the poor, taught in the most thorough manner. Their lessons in grammar, geography, and history, would do honor to any school, and their needlework was of the highest order. The teacher observed, "Though they are the children of the poor, we do not know what station God may call them to fill. We advance them as far as possible while they are with us. The Protestants," she added, "do not teach the poor anything but reading, writing, and arithmetic."

"What a rebuke," said my friend, "is this on the practice of Bible Christians! Here is a nun spending her whole life in teaching the poor, without any compensation, and saying, 'We don't know what station God may want them to fill, and we advance them as far as we can.'" Three nuns were giving their whole time in this school.

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.