Urlingford Spa

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VI (2) | Start of Chapter

Urlingford Spa is supposed to contain mineral qualities of a medicinal nature so efficacious, that for years it has been quite a resort for invalids from various parts of the country. A brother of the good woman with whom I had first lodged, kept a house for the accommodation of visitors, and had invited me to visit them and pass the night. A four miles walk up a tedious hill made the sight of the thatched inn a welcome treat to my eyes. The family consisted of the father and mother, three daughters, and a son or two, who all assured me they were "right glad to see me." But the house was so filled with company, that they had no room to put me in but the kitchen. "What must be done?" was the question. "Where must the cratur be put, and what would she ate?" I assured them that no delicacy or luxury was required, and a piece of bread and a couple of pears made me a comfortable meal; and the old man taking a hint from his spouse that the room was wanted, invited me to visit the Spa. A little stone enclosure, with a gate, secured the well from intruders. The water was running from a little pipe into a reservoir, and here had people of all nations resorted for more than a century; yet no bathing establishment had been provided, nor were any accommodations prepared for the visitor, except what a thatched cabin, with corresponding conveniences, could afford.

A dandy with whip and cap came driving up in a single gig, drawn by a prancing horse. Addressing in Irish the old woman who was attending at the water-pipe, they held a jovial chat. At length, taking out his watch, and saying, "I must be off; it's my dinner hour;" he whirled away: and as he turned to go, a young woman remarked to me, "He's a humorous fellow; he's always the same, as full of fun as ye see him now." I inquired who he was. She replied, "The priest of the parish—a Catholic, to be sure, ma'am." "He seems to be very well fed," I remarked. "And why shouldn't he," was her reply, "when he has a large domain, and everything in his house—money and attendants in plenty?" The old man now invited me to take a view of the country, from the top of an eminence which overlooked a valley that extended for many miles on either hand, whilst immense ranges of mountains, at a distance, surrounded the whole. The view was beautifully grand; the air was the purest and sweetest imaginable, and the fields of grain in every direction invited the sickle; the hawthorn hedges, cutting in fanciful sections the whole landscape, divided one kind from another in tasteful variety; while the white cattle, which now so much abound in Ireland, and the white thatched cottages of the peasant, were spotting hill and dale. We then descended, and entered the door of the good man, when a sister met us, saying, "I don't know where in the world, ma'am, we can put ye, for the rooms are all full." I felt the repulse keenly; for my long and fatiguing walk, and the lateness of the hour, made it look like an impossibility to proceed any further. I sat down upon a stone at the gate, not knowing what next to do, when two stout Irishmen, who were lodgers in the house, kindly approached, saying "Do'nt sit here, ma'am; walk in; surely there must be some place for a stranger." I refused, saying I could rest where I sat, as the family had informed me there was no room for me in the house. For a time the case looked desperate, for I had been previously told that every cabin was full, and it was quite too late to walk four miles to find a lodging. The old man and his wife now came, and stood in silence, leaning upon the wall over the place where I was sitting, seeming to say, "I wish I could find a place for ye; for ye're a stranger."

At length the old man, seconded by his wife, said, "Come in, come in, and sit in the kitchen; ye can't stay here; we are sorry we can't do better; we had hoped that some of our lodgers would have gone before ye come, for we wanted ye here." I followed them into their floorless kitchen. Sitting by a comfortable turf fire, I became drowsy; the two kind Irishmen were sitting in the room, and supposing me to be asleep, one said, "Poor thing! she must feel quair in a strange country alone. I wonder how her people would trate a stranger in her situation—would they trate her tenderly?" "Aw! to be sure they would," answered his friend; "the Americans have always showed great love for the Irish." "To be sure they have," answered the woman of the house. Thinking it time to awake, I inquired the time; it was late, and I had not been told that a lodging could be provided; and rising from my chair, I said, "I must seek some place to stop for the night." "And that ye won't," responded the woman, "we will do what we can." And her husband, with much decision, said, "ye can't and shan't go." The question was thus settled, and a daughter was sent out to get a bed from a neighbor's, which she brought in upon her back, and adjusted upon chairs; and after a repast of some potatoes and salt, without knife or fork, I lay down in the kitchen in a clean bed, and not a being in all Ireland slept more sweetly than I, with my body-guard wrapped in her cloak on the floor at my side.

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.