Feet-bathing Extraordinary

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XIX (5) | Start of Chapter

My feet needing bathing, the pot which had been used for the boiling of the potatoes was presented, and in presence of the ten male eye-witnesses gathered about, the girl who fought the battle with the ram washed my feet in spite of all remonstrance, the father and mother urging my consent as being a duty to a "wairy stranger." While this was in progress, the father whispered a second daughter to "put on the feather bed for the lady," and in a half hour my bed-room was in readiness, with another splinter of bog-wood put into a crack to light me on the way thither. This bed-room contained three beds for father and mother, three daughters, and myself. I was allowed to retire first, the same attendant standing by in real primitive fashion, to help me to undress. The washing of the feet of strangers and guests is, in these mountains and glens of Ireland, a literal and beautiful illustration of our Saviour's example, "So ought ye to wash one another's feet." They will not allow you to perform this office yourself, without an absolute refusal; and then, with apparent disappointment, they stand aloof, as if deprived of a most desired favor. The custom of an attendant to help the stranger undress, is mentioned by Henderson in his visit to Iceland, where the mother or eldest daughter claims the honor; and though the unaccustomed stranger may at first feel it an intrusion, yet the fastidiousness is soon relieved by the simple unstudied manner in which it is done.

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.