Reading the Bible

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter IX (13) | Start of Chapter

My never-tiring companion conducted me into an apartment, which looked more like the end of all human hopes than an abode for the living and breathing; and had I been in any other country but Ireland, I should have shrunk back, fearing I had entered a den of robbers. The grandmother, man and wife, a joyous host of ruddy, truly dirty urchins, with pigs, and stools, filled the muddy cabin almost to suffocation.

"And can ye give this lady here a clane bed, and it's she that can tell ye she's from New York, and a stranger; and I wouldn't leave her in any dirty hovel we'd chance to find."

The potatoes were now emptied from the pot; I asked for one, always finding this was the best and surest avenue to their hearts. One was immediately undressed, and put upon the coals. The old grandmother said, "Our beds are all in one room, and maybe the lady, bein' a stranger, she wouldn't like to sleep with so many; and while she's aitin' the pratee, I'll go and seek a lodgin'."

This was kind, and quite in keeping with all my feelings. "And be sure," called out my companion, "you get the clane room and bed."

She returned with good tidings, and I was introduced to my new lodgings, a little different from the one I had left, but not in the best keeping; but I was in Connaught, and Connaughtmen were there. In the evening I observed the mistress in a separate apartment reading, and asked what she had that seemed so to interest her. "A good book," was the answer. Knowing they were Roman Catholics, I did not think it was a Bible; and when she put it into my hand, saying, "Have you read this?" pointing to the miracle of the loaves and fishes, I was happily disappointed. "Will you read it?" she asked. I did so, and much more besides, while the men who were sitting by seemed deeply interested; and one poor Connaughtman, on whom nature had not lavished all her gifts, and education had not given one specimen of her handywork, was in gaping astonishment, and wondered why he had not heard the like afore. "By dad," said he to the landlord, "and why didn't we never hear the like from the praist?" The landlord being one step in advance in intelligence, and a little piqued for the reputation of the priest, silenced him by saying, "But sure we have, and a great dale more." Some five or six chapters had been read, when the Connaughtman suddenly inquired, "And do ye go to church, ma'am? I was never in one but once," he continued, "and the divil take me if I ever get cotcht there again. Oh, musha, had ye been lookin' at me there." "What was the trouble, sir?"

"The life was scar'd out o' me, ma'am, and the heart lept up to the mouth." "And tell us what so frighted you?"

"Why, ma'am, I had heard of the old English church in Galway, that it had images and sich like, to be seen, and I was goin' by to mass, and see the door open, and thought it might be no harum to peep in a little. A soldier was at the door, with a soord, and a divil of a leg had he under him but critches, and when I had but just got behind a post, peepin' at a picture in a dark corner, a man in black bobb'd up before me, his tail scrapin' the ground behind him, musha me! I can't tell how long. I thought it was sartinly the Old Nick, and I run here, and I run there, but for the life o' me I darrint run back, for the soldier with the soord was at the door, and he would strike me, and I could hear the black man draggin' his long tail after him. I sees the back door open, and made out into the churchyard, for d' ye see, I'd ruther be with the dead than with the livin', and I skulked among the stones till I found a place to dodge out, and right glad was I to get off with the life in me, and by dad, ye don't find me in a church again."

This simple-minded man told this story in all sincerity, nor could he be persuaded but that the sexton, with his black gown, was the Old Nick sent to frighten him for entering the church.

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.