A Poor House

Thursday—Walked away from the town, and unexpectedly made my way to the poor house—everything in order, everything in keeping—a healthy spot, and good fires enlivening the hearths of the old people, which appeared more like luxury than poverty. But the constant complaint of all in these houses, when they can be heard by strangers, is the "thinness of the stirabout, and the want of the tay and tobacco." An old female confined to her bed looked entreatingly upon me, to whom I said, "You are nearly home, ma'am." "O!" she answered, "I have offended God, and what shall I do?" She appeared in great agony of feeling, knew she must soon die, and afraid of the judgment, I pointed her to the blood that cleanseth from all sin. Instantly a woman came behind me, and rudely called out, pulling me at the same time, "Come out of this place," hurrying me on. As soon as we were out of the room, she begged a few pennies, changing her disgusting tone to one of softness and supplication. "Shame!" said I, "that you should rudely draw me away from that pitiful old woman, to beg." Knowing that the inmates are not allowed to ask charity, as they are constantly living upon it, I declined, and asked her how she should dare to take such liberties. This custom of begging is so prevalent, that I can find neither nook nor shade where to be safe, except in the middle of a sermon; they will follow you to the church door, and be on the spot when you come out.

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.