Happy Molly

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VII (17) | Start of Chapter

The next day I was to leave for Urlingford, and the lady of the house where I stopped said, "You must see an old woman we have in our cellar; she's the wonder of us all. She sleeps on a handful of straw upon some narrow boards, a few inches from the floor, without pillow, or any covering, but a thin piece of a blanket, and the clothes she wears through the day. She goes to mass at five in the morning, with a sauce-pan, and fills it with holy water, which she offers to every friend she meets, telling them it will ensure good luck through the day, and then sprinkles it about her room." At this moment, Molly, unobserved, stole softly upon us. When I met her laughing eye, and still more laughing face, I could not refrain from laughing too. Her cheeks were red, as though the bloom of sixteen rested upon them; her hair was white, yet her countenance was full of vivacity. She looked the "American lady" full in the face, and pressing my hand, said, "Welcome, welcome; good luck, good luck to ye, mavourneen. Come into my place, and see how comfortable I am fixed." We followed to Happy Molly's cellar; five or six stone steps led us into a dark enclosure, with a stone floor, which contained all that Happy Molly said she needed.

"Where do you sleep, Molly?" Taking me by the arm, she pointed to the corner, behind the fire-place, "Here! here! and look, here is my blanket" (which was but a thin piece of flannel) "and here, you see, is an old petticoat, which the woman where I stopped pulled out of my box, and tore it in pieces, ma'am, because I couldn't pay two pennies for my rent; and then, ye see, ma'am, I came here, and praise God they be so kind; oh, I couldn't tell ye how kind."

"Where's your pillow, Molly?" "Oh! I want no pillow, ma'am, and I sleep so warm."

"And where are your children, Molly?" "Some of them gone to God, and some of them gone abroad, I dont't know where; I never sees them. They forgets their ould mother. I nursed six, and one for a lady in Dublin. I never gave them any milk from the cow."

"Had you a cow, Molly?" "A cow, and four too, and a good husband."

"And you are happy now, Molly?" "And why shouldn't I be? I have good friends, and enough to eat, a comfortable room, and good bed."

"Where do you get your food?" "Oh, up and down, ma'am."

She did not beg, but all who knew her, when they saw her, would ask, "Well, Molly, have you had anything to-day?" If not, a bit was given her. She is very cleanly, and always healthy. When I was leaving, I stepped down to say good-bye. She was sewing on a bench at the foot of the stone steps, and when she found I was going, she seized my hand, and kissed it, saying, "Good luck, good luck, American lady, the good God will let us meet in heaven."

God surely "tempers the wind to the shorn lamb" in Ireland. Such unheard-of sufferings as poor Erin has endured have drawn out all kinds of character, except the very worst.

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.