New Trials in Dublin

The morning found me in Dublin; and here new trials were in waiting. My trunk, containing nearly all that was valuable in wearing apparel, was left in the care of the poor woman where I had lodged through the winter. She had before been intrusted with it, and her honesty had never been doubted. Her husband had become intemperate, and she had been placed in this great house by the landlady to keep it, and wait on lodgers, who paid her what they saw fit. The lodgers had left, all but one, and she had no resources; her children, three in number, were crying for bread. She went to the trunk, took a dress, and carried it to one of the nuisances—a pawnbroker's—and procured bread. She took a second and third, until the trunk was emptied of garments to the number of fourteen, together with a few valuable books and other etceteras, among which was a silver teaspoon, which had seen nearly half a century, and had been the admiration of many a Connaught and Kerry wight, when sitting with them around the basket of potatoes. This, which was carried in my pocket, wrapped in clean paper, served for knife and fork, tea-cup, plate, and saucer, during every tour over mountain and bog. Blessed companion! it had become "part and parcel" of myself; beside it was a true born American, and had an indenture made by an agonized child when in the act of taking medicine. Sacred relic!

Bridget met me at the door—the usual gladness and hearty salutation were wanting. "How are you, Bridget, and how are the children?" was answered by, "Bad enough, God knows; and bad luck to you." "What luck to me?" "Your clothes are gone, and I couldn't help it." Not in the least suspecting her integrity, the natural inquiry was, "Has the house been robbed?" Frankly, she replied, "No, but I have taken them; my children were starving with hunger; I found the trunk open, which a painter who went into the chamber opened, as I supposed. You had long been gone, it was uncertain when you would return, and I might and should redeem them in a few weeks, and they are all in the pawn." The cause and effect were both before me in a true light, and the question is left to mothers, how they might have acted in a case like this. She had heard me say that life was more valuable than property, and when that was in peril, property became the moral right of him who had tried every expedient to save life, but especially when the taking of it did not threaten the same condition of that in which he was placed. She had said, "I will never see my children die for bread; I will work, I will beg, and when neither will do, I would go and stand on that bridge (which was under the window), and if asking would not do, I would seize the first that my hands could wrench from any one passing." She had flung me back on my principles, by acting up to hers, and what could be said. She could have been transported; and the whole city, who knew the affair, and had never been hungry, neither entered into her starving case nor pitied me for my foolish forbearance. The rich landlady who had recommended her to me coolly said she would put her out of the house, and she did so; and I found poor Bridget in a miserable hovel, with no means of support, and regretted that the landlady had ever known the circumstance. All the garments but one were found, but many of them too mildewed to be worth redeeming; the missing one was the best, and doubtless was taken by the painter. But the spoon—ah, the lucky spoon! It is now in a closet, where I am sitting, in London, doubly, yes, trebly valued for its extensive travels and fortunate escapes. I look at it, and think of the peasant children, and the potato, and poor Bridget and the pawnbroker.

The reader is left to name this tale "Lights" or "Shades" of Ireland, as best suits his principles; for myself, in my heart, I could not pronounce the woman a thief, and would as soon have trusted her in all common cases after this as before, and am glad that her children did not starve when my garments were lying useless.

Read "Annals of the Famine in Ireland" at your leisure

Annals of the Famine in Ireland

Read Annals of the Famine in Ireland at your leisure and help support this free Irish library.

This book still has the power to shock and sadden even though the events described are ever-receding further into the past. When you read, for example, of the poor widowed mother who was caught trying to salvage a few potatoes from her landlord's field, and what the magistrate discovered in the pot in her cabin, you cannot help but be apalled and distressed.

The text of this new edition has professionally been reset and an index added to the paperback.

Library Ireland Facebook