Household Manure

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XVII (2) | Start of Chapter

Thursday.—Going out to call at the hotel, I turned into a bye-path, and seeing a row of cabins, went to one, supposing I could take a nearer route than the public road, by inquiring the way. Putting in my head, I saw misery doubly distilled. I at first was met by two yearling calves, and there being no window in the cabin, I could not well see into the interior, and concluded that it was nothing less or more than a cowhouse. But perseverance showed me it was the abode of six full-grown mortals, master, mistress, and four daughters, sitting upon stools before a peat fire. On the left was a pile of manure, which the cow and calves had been providing from the preceding November. This manure each morning is pressed down, and a little dry straw or leaves put over, thus forming a solid mass, which being kept warm both by pressure and a fire, the owners affirm, makes it much richer. On the right was a board extending from the corner of the fire-place, of sufficient length for a bed; and over this board, upon the ground, was straw spread for the whole family's sleeping-place. The furniture was a pot to boil potatoes, an old basket, a few stools, and an old cupboard with plates, and—

"Broken tea-cups, wisely kept for show."

To my first inquiry, "can you tell me the way to the hotel?" I received no answer, all looking with amazement at the first and only bonnet that had ever looked in, and said good morning to them. Again I asked the way; the old man rose and said, "come and I'll show ye," and led me to a path among the rocks. "An' may be ye're a stranger, an' I'll not put ye out of the way." Here was old patriarchal law, though I was told they could neither read nor write. This hotel, which the natives say is "dacent and proper," is quite commodious, and, being the only one in the glen, commands all the visitors from various parts of the world. My Saturday night's entertainment was a just rebuke for turning a deaf ear to the counsel of my friend John, when he said, "ye couldn't do better, ye'll find every convainience."

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.