A Funeral

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VIII (18) | Start of Chapter

Saturday evening a funeral passed, and I joined the processsion, and followed it into the chapel yard. The corpse was carried around the chapel, and then brought back to the corner where the grave was prepared. A gilded coffin, with a lid put over like a band-box, was a novelty quite unlike the snug mahogany one, screwed closely down, with a plain plate upon the top, which I had been accustomed to see. I expected and even hoped to hear the Irish howl; for when the corpse was let into the grave, the poor old widowed mother, who had crept a mile from the poor-house on her staff, to see him buried, fell down upon her face, and gave the most piteous cry. Another old woman rushed towards her, calling out, "Stop, ye are goin' to do what nobody does now. Get up and stop the bawlin'." She was pulled up, and by force dragged away to a seat, and told peremptorily by a man to stop her crying. "Ye can't bring him back, and what's all this bawlin' about what ye can't do?"

"That is the very reason, sir," I said, "why she weeps; because she cannot bring him back; let her give vent a few moments to her grief, and she will be relieved."

Turning to her, I asked, "Is this your only son?" "One little boy I have with me in the poor-house, ma'am. It is hard for mothers to see their children die."

She was calm in a moment, and sat pale and silent till all was over. The daughter, of about eighteen, took the sheets with which the coffin was carried, into her chequered apron, and a spade which had covered with earth the coffin of her brother, and after all kneeling down upon the ground to pray for the soul of the departed a few moments, they went silently away.

Poor simple unheeded rustics! No "sable hearse or nodding plume" has honored your procession; no gilded mourning coach has brought the crippled grey-hair'd mother to see this son of her love put in his narrow house; no richly attired friends stood by when the tumbling clods were rolling upon his coffin, to support her, and shed their crocodile tears at the loss of so goodly a child. No! she had the fearful sin of being poor; this alone must shut her out from sympathy, must not even let her weep. The sister, too, was implicated; this blot of blots, this foul disgrace of poverty was found on her. The homely apron which she toil'd to purchase must wrap the shroud, and her coarse laborious hands must lift the spade which covered the bosom of her brother.

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.