Sabbath in the Mountain Cabin

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XXIII (17) | Start of Chapter

The fire died upon the hearth, and the cold awakened me. The day was the Sabbath; the storm had not in the least abated. I had my Testament, and spent the morning reading the crucifixion and resurrection of the Saviour to the family. The father assured me that "he had never heard a ha'porth of it read before; we are as ignorant, good lady, as the goats upon the mountain. God help us!" A woman entered with a red petticoat turned over her head, and the man told her in Irish who I was, and that I had come to see the poor. She reached her hand, and said in Irish, "Then she is my sister." The little girl explained, "She is a very religious body, and means you are her sister if you are religious." She was a mountain Connemara girl, but not a fac-simile of the one I met in Oranmore. She gave me a hearty shake of the hand as she went out, telling the man she must come and see me again. The man said, "If ye could spake in Irish, ye could do good to these craturs, for they are as stupid as the marble-stone." One told me that they wore red petticoats to keep off the fairies; "and this," he added, "they fully believe." While he was deploring their ignorance, his little son told him he had dreamed a bad dream. "Bless yourself, then, nine times, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, when ye are goin' to sleep, and ye won't drame at all." "Do you believe this?" I asked. "I do, ma'am; the priest told me so, and the priest must know." "The priest, sir, insulted you if he told you so; it is all nonsense, and you should not listen to it." He shook his head at my incredulity, but said no more.

The rain ceased, and I must go to the next lodging-house, about two miles. Asking the man if he could change half-a-crown, "For what?" as I hesitated, "I will not change a half-crown, nor a shilling, nor a sixpence; nor a ha'porth shall the childer take, for that blackguard bed ye laid yer wairy bones upon. If I had a half-crown, I would give it to let ye ride to Clifden." This was true Connemara hospitality, and I went out without leaving a farthing, where I had had value received, and should have felt it a great privilege to give them a little.

I reached the lodging-house, and saw the good woman and all about her in unusual trim for the people in that mountain, and felt much cheered at so neat and comfortable a looking place. "But we cannot entertain ye, because a daughter is to be married this evening." I then was more anxious to stop, for among all the varieties I had seen, I never had been present at an Irish wedding. I went to a second, was denied; to a third, the answer here was, "She could not accommodate so dacent a body." Decent or not decent, I told her I must stay. The rain was beginning, and I could not reach Clifden that night, neither was I willing to be out so long on the Sabbath. At last she consented, and gave me a good fire, a piece of bread, and a plate of well cooked potatoes, which are always given without charge in every lodging-house where I stopped. The room where I lodged had potatoes cut for planting, which was the creditable reason why a "dacent body" should not be put in it.

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.