Journey to Clonmel, Dungarvan, and Cappoquin

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VI (11) | Start of Chapter

The next evening I accompanied my kind Mrs. W——out of town, and felt when she gave me her hand, and said , "Please God, I hope to see you again before I die," that I was parting with a real friend. I then returned to her sister's, who did all she could to make me comfortable. She was a Catholic, and her husband endeavored to induce me to become one also, fearing I should lose my soul out of the true church; but his zeal was tempered with the greatest kindness.

When I was about leaving Thurles, Mrs. B——said, "You should see Mount Mellary before leaving Ireland." Inquiring what it might be, my curiosity was awakened by what I heard, to see it, and I resolved to take a car the next morning, and make my way thither, a distance of more than fifty English miles. I had hoped to stop at the Rock of Cashel, but was obliged for the present to content myself by seeing its lofty pinnacle. Perched upon the top of a rock, it has stood the ravages of centuries, looking out upon the world, and the city beneath its feet, which is now going fast to decay. Cashel looked more deserted this day than usual, as a rich brewer in the city, a brother of Father Mathew had died, and the shops were closed in honor of his funeral.

When travelling by coaches and cars, I had been so much annoyed by the disgusting effluvia of tobacco, that I dreaded a "next stage," the changing of horses being the signal for a fresh lighting up. Seating myself upon the car at Cashel, my hap was to be stowed behind a rustic who had reloaded his pipe, and began puffing till my unlucky head was enveloped in a dense fog, a favorable wind wafting it in that direction. Knowing that the consumers of this commodity are not fastidiously civil, I forbore to complain, until I became sick. At length I ventured to say, "Kind sir, would you do me the favor to turn your face a little? Your tobacco has made me sick." Instantly he took the filthy machine from his mouth, and archly looking at me, "May be yer ladyship would take a blast or two at the pipe," resumed his puffing without changing his position. I was cured of asking favors.

Passing on from Cashel, a Roman Catholic priest seated himself upon the car, whom I found polite and intelligent. His first inquiries were concerning American slavery. Its principles and practices he abhored, and he could not comprehend its existence in a republican government. I blush for my country when, on every car, and at every party and lodging-house, this everlasting blot on America's boasted history is presented to my eyes. Even the illiterate laborer, who is lean-ing on his spade, and tells me of his eight-pence a day, when I in pity exclaim, "How can you live? you could be better fed and paid in America," he often remarks, "Aw, you have slaves in America, and are they better fed and clothed?" My priest took his leave, and his seat was occupied by a deaf old man who was a sorry substitute; but a few hours carried us to Clonmel, a town neat in its appearance, containing about twenty thousand inhabitants, amongst whom are many Quakers. Here some of the "White Quakers," a small body of "Come-outers," from the Quakers, formerly resided, but they have removed to Dublin. These people bitterly denounce others, but take liberties themselves under pretence of walking in the spirit, which by many would be considered quite indecorous. The men wear white hats, coats and pantaloons of white woollen cloth, and shoes of undressed leather; the women likewise dress in white, to denote purity of life.

Seeing a laborer digging a ditch under a wall, I asked him the price of his day's work. "A shilling, ma'am." "This is better than in Tipperary, sir." "But we don't have this but a little part of the year; the Quakers are very hard upon us here, ma'am; giving us work but a little time, and if a poor Irishman is found to be a little comfortable, they say, 'he has been robbing us.' The English, too, are expecting a war, and they want us to enlist; but a divil of an Irishman will they get to fight their battles. O'Connell is not out of prison;" and stopping suddenly, leaning on his spade, "How kind America has been to us; we ought to be friends to her, and the Irish do love her." He grew quite enthusiastic on America's kindness and Britain's tyranny, dropped his spade, climbed the wall where I was standing, and expatiated on Ireland's woes and America's kindness till I was obliged to say "good bye."

A new car and driver were now provided. These drivers are a terrible annoyance, with their "Rent, ma'am." "Rent! for what?" "For the driver, ma'am." "I will give you an order on Bianconi, sir." I had been told that Bianconi paid his coachmen well, and forbade their annoying the passengers, but afterwards found that they receive from him but tenpence or a shilling a day, out of which they must board themselves. I was sorry I spoke so to the driver, and hope to learn better manners in future. I had now a solitary road to pass, and no fellow passenger but a police officer sitting on the opposite side of the car. Our route lay through defiles in the intricate windings of the Knockmeledown mountains, and had my faith been strong in giants, fairies, and hobgoblins, the dark recesses and caves in these mountains would have afforded ample food for imagination.

The sun came out from the dark pavilion in which he had been hidden through the day, to take a last look upon the eastern crags and lofty mountains he was about leaving. The stillness of death reigned, except when at long intervals the barking of some surly cur told that a miserable hovel was near. Then some barefooted mother, with a troop of besmeared and tattered children, would present us with undeniable proofs of Ireland's woes and degradation. Not a human voice was heard for many a long mile. Reaching across the car, I asked the police officer the name of the county. "I don't know, ma'am," was the reply, though he was then probably within the precincts of his own location, as he soon alighted from the car. The last light of day left us as we emerged from these romantic mountains, and entered the seaport town of Dungarvan. We proceeded onwards, and were joined by a company of pleasant young women, who, finding that I was a stranger, procured for me lodgings when we arrived at the town of Cappoquin. There was a gentleman from Clonmel, who had a son in New York, and who invited me to his house on my return, and the evening passed pleasantly with two or three talkative Irishmen, whose good nature, when in exercise, is always a compensation for every inconvenience. I was now in the region of romance, on the banks of the Blackwater, and three miles from the famous Mount Mellary.

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.