Irish Beggars

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter II (11) | Start of Chapter

The next day rain kept me within doors, and I had the painful annoyance of seeing beggars constantly walking back and forwards before the parlor window; nor would they depart, though often told they could have nothing. The sister, who supported the family of her brother-in-law, now returned from Dublin. She was a woman of some worth, and apparently possessing much piety. The poor afflicted wife and mother, as soon as her sister returned, and the excitement abated, became unwell, imputing the cause to her visit at the poor-house; but sickness of the heart was the mover of it all. In the morning, when I went to bid her adieu, she answered not a word, but looked as if in a state of deep despondency:—

"When woman droops, she droops in silence;

The canker grief gnaws stealthily, but sure;

The pallid cheek, the sunken eye alone

Give note of death's dire work within."

Report has said something of the class of beggars in Ireland; but her busy tongue, extravagant as she often is, could not exaggerate here. It was scarcely eight o'clock when I reached the coach, but the beggars had assembled before me; for the going out of this vehicle is the hey-day of expectation. To them a foreigner, or a stranger, whom their shrewdness will readily detect, is a kind of common plunder, and escape is a hopeless undertaking. The coach was to leave at half-past eight, and while I stood waiting, I saw some half dozen of men with spades standing in a cluster, and inquired if they had work for the day. "Not a hap'orth, but we are hoping to get some." I asked what was the price of labor. "From six to tenpence, and we don't get work half the time at this." "And does this support you?" "O ma'am," said an old man, leaning on his shovel, "we hope to see better days, plase God; it's but a sorry bit this gives us." "Father Mathew has done much for you." "Yes, praise be to God, as early as now in the morning, the people round here, standing as they do now, would be cursin' and fightin'; but now, thank God, there's not a word from their lips."

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.