Mr. Barker of Kilcooley

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VI (7) | Start of Chapter

The celebrated estate of Kilcooley has descended by hereditary title from the days of Cromwell, till it is now lodged in the hands of one who shares largely in the affections of all his tenants, especially the poor. The wall surrounding his domain is said to be three miles in extent, including a park containing upwards of three hundred deer, and a wild spot for rabbits. A church, and an ancient ivy-covered abbey of the most venerable appearance, adorn a part of it.

But the pleasure of walking over these delightful fields is enhanced by the knowledge that his tenants are made so happy by his kindness. To every widow he gives a pension of £12 a year; and to every person injuring himself in his employment, the same sum yearly, as long as the injury lasts. His mother was all kindness, and her dying injunction to him was, "To be good to the poor." His house has been burned, leaving nothing but the spacious wings uninjured. An elegant library was lost. His mother, whom he ardently loved, was buried in a vault on the premises; and his grief at her death was such that he left the domain for twelve months. He supports a dispensary for the poor, who resort to it twice a week, and receive medicine from a physician who is paid some sixty pounds a year for his attendance. I was introduced to the family of this physician, to see his daughter, who had been a resident in New York some six years, and hoped soon to return thither to her husband and child still living there. As I was seated, a little son of two years old, and born in America, stood near me. I asked his name; "Yankee Doodle, ma'am," was the prompt reply. This unexpected answer brought my country, with every national as well as social feeling to mind, and I clasped the sweet boy in my arms. Let not the reader laugh; he may yet be a stranger in a foreign land. This name the child gave himself, and insists upon retaining it. O! those dear little children! I hear their sweet voices still: "God bless ye, lady, welcome to our country," can never be forgotten. Nothing was neglected that could contribute to my comfort. If I begged them to take less trouble on my account, the daughter replied that she had lived in America, and had been a partaker of the hospitality there exercised towards strangers, and knew well the comforts there enjoyed; and that all which could be done for an American stranger was little enough. At first I supposed this extreme kindness must soon wear out. Not so; for months this house was my home, and the last hour I spent in it was if possible more friendly than the first.

While in this family, I attended the Protestant church on Mr. Barker's domain, and heard the curate read his prayers to a handful of parishioners, mostly youth and children. By the assistance of a rich uncle of his wife's, he can ride to church in a splendid carriage, which makes him tower quite above his little flock. His salary is £75 per annum.

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.