Miserable Lodgings

My lodgings should not pass entirely unnoticed. In all lodging-houses I had found that a single room was an extra privilege scarcely to be expected; and often the man, woman, and children would be fixed in the same apartment, with one or two transient lodgers, as the case might be. This is not so in hotels. In this house, the apartments looked tidy; and I was shown to a chamber where were two curtained beds; one of these I was to occupy. Before retiring, the woman said, "I shall sleep down stairs, the child is sick, and nobody will be in your room but John." "Who is John?" I asked. "My old man," was the reply. "Your old man! Be assured, madam, I shall be your company down here then." "That you don't; you shall have a good bed, and room where you can rest." The matter was settled by telling her in plain English I would not go into the chamber. As a penance, I was put into a confined room, with her mother and sick boy across the foot of my bed, bolstered and tucked against the wall, so that there was no danger of falling out or off. The poor old mother was dying with the asthma, keeping up almost a continued cough, and could not lie down; and when she was not coughing, her unearthly breathing so frightened me, fearing she was in death-agonies, I kept calling, "Woman, woman!" (for I did not know her name). When she was coughing, she could not sleep; and when she slept, I could not wake her. Nothing but the cough could do it. Thus two doleful nights I kept my eyes waking, not conscious that I slept at all; the third night I slept a little from downright necessity. But complaining was out of the question; there was an empty bed, and the wife seemed glad to punish me for casting contempt on as good and as quiet a man as there was in all Galway.

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.