A Morning Walk

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter I (11) | Start of Chapter

Monday.—The lady who first entertained me went out to show me a little of the city, and Cole River View, where my letter of introduction was to be delivered. This letter of introduction, by the way, was no small item in the account, for I was assured by the Irish gentlewoman in New York who presented it, that it would introduce me to all the Protestants in Dublin of the better class; but as the poor and the peasantry were the objects of my visit to the country, I commenced my acquaintance that morning by saluting as many of these as I could on the way.

The rich scenery, heightened by a pleasant sun, threw around a lustre upon all about me, which kept my imagination awake, diffusing a cheerfulness to the poor laborer, which made his burden more light; for in Ireland it may emphatically be said, "a merry heart doeth good like a medicine"—the merry burst of wit following the hasty brush of the tear from the eye, is always a happy transition, not only to him who sheds that tear, but to the sympathizing looker-on. God, who knew what Ireland would suffer, made it so, and God does all things well.

We reached the tasty cottage to which my letter was directed, but the person who should break the seal was absent, and we were invited to call again.

The cabins were my centre of attraction, as I had never before seen a thatched roof, an earthen floor, or the manner of cabin house-keeping. I saw new things, and if I found nothing to imitate, I always found something to admire. The first we entered was cleanly; the dishes tastefully arranged upon a white cupboard, and a family of young girls in cleanly garb. And had I visited no other, I might have written a romantic tale on the bright pots and buckets of the Irish peasantry. They were employed in a sail-cloth factory. The next we saw was a pitiful reverse. A slender, discouraged-looking man was sitting on a stool in one corner; a sickly-looking mother, with four ragged children, in another; all waiting the boiling of a pot of potatoes, which certainly fell short of the three pounds and a half allowed to each man in the poor-house.

"Do your children go to school, sir?"

"No, ma'am; we could not get them clothes to be dacent on the street. I work at blaichin,' ma'am: I have eight shillings a week, and pay five pounds for the cabin, without a fut of land."

I deducted the five pounds from the twenty pounds sixteen shillings, leaving him fifteen pounds sixteen shillings to feed, clothe, and warm six beings; and in fact I could not find many sovereigns left for their education. This being my first arithmetical calculation on Irish labor and economy, I was at a loss to understand how the thing could be possible; but having since seen many things stranger than these, I am prepared to believe in what once would have appeared a little short of miraculous.

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.