Guide Persecution

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XXI (14) | Start of Chapter

A rugged foot-path led me on till I reached a cabin, and a young man was ready as a guide. I told him I could make no possible use of one. "But he can show you the shortest route." This was true Kerry cunning; I answered him that it was impossible to stray from the path, as there was but one, and that could not be left without climbing precipitous rocks. He turned away, and in an undertone said, "Ah, she understands." Passing out, I met two gentlemen with a guide, who had half an hour before burst a good rifle when making echoes. When they had passed, I sat down upon a rock, to make echoes for myself by singing a hymn, and these two gentlemen concealed themselves to listen, returned to Killarney, and reported that they had enjoyed the sweetest echoes imaginable in the gap, from a crazy woman, who passed them alone, and sung two sweet hymns, while they were secluded within hearing. The novelty of seeing a woman without a guide led them to suppose I must be crazy. I soon met another, then three more, all insisting that I must have a guide; and in no way could I escape but by insisting that I should not accept of one.

At last this pile of rocks on rock's, mountains on mountains, was passed, and I stood upon the top, looking upon the other side, where the mountain scenery, like all other Kerry beauties and sublimities, must be seen to be understood. I had read something of them before seeing them, but had no just conception of the reality. Enjoying the treat in silent admiration, I heard the sound of footsteps, and looking about, was saluted, "Sure you're a wonderful wawker; I have followed ye a mile and a-half through the Gap, and couldn't overtake ye. And why should ye be alone? Sure the like of ye never was known; an' where may ye be from?" "From New York." "From New Yawrk! an' what's the raison that ye're here alone? and have ye no comrade?" "Not a comrade in the world, sir, nor kindred who cares for me." "An'ye're come to this poor country! An' ye must have a dale of money." Had I been afraid of robbery, I should have shown him my purse; but looking at him as a whole, I feared no evil. He was old, carrying a staff from necessity, and so dirtily dressed, that if he had no living things about him, it must be because they had left to find a richer, cleaner pasture. The path wound around the mountain to a deep valley at the head of the lake, and through what was once the tasteful domain of Lord Brandon, now grown over with weeds and thistles, and looking more suitable for the abode of the screeching owl and dancing satyr than the pleasure-grounds of a lord. A slovenly farmer had rented it, and left everywhere the impress of sloth and bad taste. His wife, when we entered the cottage, was sitting upon her haunches on a settee, with her heels drawn under her, in the commendable occupation of knitting. Her children and domicile appeared as if "the virtuous woman, who looketh well to the ways of her household," had not passed that way. The tower and garden, like Solomon's field of the slothful, were grown over with nettles, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. And had the surly owner, who once expended thirty thousand pounds to make this a spot of proud wonder to strangers, been allowed again to walk over these grounds, if his penurious heart still retains any earthly relish, he would have dealt out anathemas against the miscreants, who had so effectually defaced all that was once beautiful in the eye of the visitor.

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.