Lodgings in Cork

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XIII (10) | Start of Chapter

Inquiring of the coachman for a lodging-house, he said he could procure a clean one, and sent his son as a guide, who led me through a dark alley into a house, whose very threshold was most frightful, and the room itself more so; and shrinking back, and saying, "I think I will not stop," the coachman peremptorily said, "show her a room." Giving a hasty peep into the bed-room, he added, "you can give this lady a clean bed," and then hurried down stairs, leaving me standing like a petrified statue, to take my own time and my own way. Looking in, if my astonished eyes needed anything to make out the picture, here were the materials. But what is the use of conferring with "flesh and blood," when there is no alternative? My fate was irrevocably fixed for the night, and demurring would neither change the place nor remove the pain, and collecting myself, I inquired if I could have a few potatoes. They were boiled, and put upon a dish with a cup of salt; and disrobing them of their coat with my fingers, my supper was soon made. And here, by way of admonition and comfort, allow me to say to all whom it may concern, whenever your adventurous lot, like mine, may be cast in the mountains of Ireland, where bread is scarce, and flesh none, the inside of a potatoe is the safest and surest defence against not only the inroads of hunger, but other doubtful etceteras, which (begging pardon) a filthy cabin and exceptionable cabin-keeper might present.

The family consisted of husband and wife, grandmother, and five intelligent, interesting children, which would have adorned a better nursery. They gathered about me, to see and read the books; and the eldest, a lad of fourteen, took a small Testament, and read to the parents the first four chapters of Matthew, for they could not read. The dread of an ingress to the bedroom kept me conjuring new schemes to divert the children till a late hour, but it must be encountered. The coachman was obeyed, for I had clean blankets to my bed, though some bushels of potatoes were under the foot of it. By pulling away a dirty cloth, which served for a pane of glass, and removing an unmentionable or two, in a half hour my olfactory nerves had no cause for complaint, and never had I slept sweeter in cabin or hotel.

In the morning, eating a couple of potatoes, through snow and sleet, I made my way to the house of a Baptist minister, where I passed the day; and here, though a table was spread with knives, forks, and plates, potatoes and salt was my hap alone, for bread at a dinner is not the accompaniment where potatoes and flesh are provided. The father returned at evening, and accompanied me to his vestry, to attend a prayer-meeting, and recommended a lodging-place, which was a happy contrast to the last night's encounter, and where I found the missionaries Jassom, Howe, and the widow of the unfortunate man that was accidentally shot at Otaheite. Mrs. Fisher, the lady who kept the house, entered most deeply into my undertakings, and ceased not to do what she could, during my pleasant stay in Cork. Her feelings for the stranger did not die in empty words; she acted.

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.