Fellow Travellers on the Kerry Mountains

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XIX

Fellow Travellers on the Kerry MountainsBay of Ross by Moonlight"Fine Stage-house"Loss of AppetiteFeet-bathing ExtraordinaryKerry TrickGlorious Morning on the Mountains, in spite of Hunger and WearinessCabin CourtesyWomen a Beast of BurdenLodging-house at CahirciveenA Saucepan an Unattainable LuxuryReligion and FilthGuests to the FairCurly-headed BiddyBattle of the SticksSabbath ServicesProtestant Whiskey-SellingImproved Quarters

Tuesday, March 18th.—I concluded to go west, and visit Cahirciveen, a distance of thirty miles; to walk the first ten, and wait for the car till next morning at the town of Killorglin. I soon had company, and a call for books from every peasant who passed, having a basket on my arm, and some tracts upon the outside. "An' maybe you've somethin' that's nice," said one; giving him a tract, he read with much attention, "an' sure you don't give these? There's not many the like of ye. Ye must be from England." "From America," I said. "From America! and what brought ye here among the poor?" When the object was explained, "then ye must be wawkin' for the good of your soul." This I often found the most difficult part of the story to be understood. If penance were not the object, what could induce me to put so much trouble on myself?

A kind parting left me with a countryman, who was going to the same town with a load of flour, and heavily as his cart was burdened, he insisted on my taking a seat. "The wawkin' 'ill be heavy on ye." I declined, but put my basket on his cart, and he carried it till we reached the miserable dirty town of Killorglin. This shrewd Kerryman displayed much of that common-sense observation, and inquisitiveness, so peculiar in the peasantry of all Ireland, but especially in the Kerryites. We reached the filthy town, and finding no better stopping-place than a public-house, where a woman was dealing out the "good creature," and so forbidding were her looks and everything in keeping, that, though rain began to fall, I resolved to go on eight miles further, where the teamster was going that night, rather than wait for the car next morning. I was now getting into the heart and essence of Kerry, the land of O'Connell, the country noted for the inquisitive disposition and cunning of the peasantry. And though it would be absurd to suppose that a county line could designate the character and habits of a people, yet throughout all Ireland there is one grand feature telling you who is Irish, and definite minor ones telling the stranger there are different children belonging to this common stock, who speak different languages, and wear different costumes. The Kerryites are said to have a mixture of the Spanish, who many years ago found their way among these mountains, and the Kerry women have black or dark hair, and in general are quite handsome.

I had not walked far before I "cast longing lingering looks behind." My feet were blistered, the road stony, and the rain threatening. Often I sat down upon the stones by the way-side, feeling quite unable to proceed. I could get nothing to eat, and my breakfast had been a light one, and my condition was not the most desirable.

Night came on. My companion had met with a fellow-traveller of the same craft, taking a load of flour to the town, and each man lit his pipe, and jabbered in Irish to my full content; having me sometimes in sight, and sometimes out of sight, sometimes far in the rear, sometimes in spaking distance, when my companion would call, "and sure ye aint wairy; and when we've crassed the stones a bit, ye'll have a lift on the cart," or, "it's a fine stage-house ye'll see as there is in all the three kingdoms." The name of a stage-house, to an American ear, is associated with all that is comfort; and hearing that it was an Englishman that kept it, I was buoyed up with the hope that I should meet with a clean cheerful hearth, good bread, and clean lodging, for never did a weary traveller deserve them more.

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.