Parting from cordial friends

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XI (9) | Start of Chapter

Facts might be multiplied of unparalleled kindness from the poor; but I must prepare for other scenes. My body and mind were both strengthened by rest and kindness at the doctor's, where I had been most of the time since my return; and to Dublin I must depart. And so urged was I to spend the Christmas there, that I felt obliged to say I should not, for could not answered no purpose. "If you will leave us, the blessing of God go with you," was the reply; and man, horse, and car, cake and cheese, were ready. I felt that morning that the air of Kilcooley and Kilkenny was wafting fresh kindness, that the birds sang it, and the dogs barked it; and when the doctor, his wife and daughter, with the little Yankee Doodle, accompanied me to the gate, I begged that not one of them should speak. I looked a long farewell. A wave from the hand of the doctor, a tear in the eye of his companion, were the last I saw; and a "God bless you," from the little Yankee was the last I heard. I hurried the driver to take me away. Why should I linger? This was not my rest. I should not find the like in many families; it could not be expected, and it would have paralysed those strenuous efforts which must be made in accomplishing what was before me.

Thirteen miles brought me to the pleasant town of Durrow, where I stopped for the night, to take passage in the morning for Dublin. Here I found an afflicted woman, whose husband had seven years before gone to New York, and she had not once heard from him. The sight of an American opened anew the channels of grief, which had already done a serious work. Kindness was here lavished without weight or measure, and when I called for my bill in the morning, "We cannot ask you anything, for you have had nothing," alluding to a straw bed which had been prepared by my request. I paid them more than the ordinary price, for they had done more than is customary to be done for lodgers.

At five, while the waning moon and twinkling stars were still looking out upon the beautiful landscape beneath them, I was upon the car, with a talkative young coachman, and rode five miles, passing the domains of the rich, whose high walls and wide-spreading lawns made a striking contrast with the thatched hovels and muddy door-yards of the wretched poor around them. Never had I ridden in Ireland when the stillness, the scenery, and the hour of the morning all so happily combined to make the heart rejoice as now. But the one dreadful, ever-living truth, like a spectre, haunts the traveller at every step; that Ireland's poor, above all others, are the most miserable, the most forgotten, and the most patient of all beings. I heed not who says the picture is too highly drawn. Let them see this picture as I have seen it, let them walk it, let them eat it, let them sleep it, as I have done. Let them look at these disgusting rags, with eyes not dimmed by constant use, and hearts not seared by love of avarice. Let them look at Ireland as though she was some distant isle, ruled by some pagan lord. Would they not say, Blot her from the earth, sink her in the sea, scatter her to the winds, or make her more comely in the eyes of men?

I could not but say, while passing these forbidding cabins, "Sleep on, for when you awake it must only be to fresh misery; it must only be to idleness or unrequited toil. You are now free from the voice of the imperious landlord; you do not now see the squalid, half naked child asking for the potatoe; and you do not see the light of that sun, which only shines to you to light up your degradation."

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.