Difficulties of writing a correct work on Ireland

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter I (4) | Start of Chapter

The object of this volume is to place before the world a plain and simple outline of what is called the Famine of Ireland, in 1846-7-8-9.

But before I take the reader down the sides of this dreadful gulf, before I uncover to him the bowels of that loathsome pit, on the margin of which he often may have tremblingly stood, I will gird up his mind for the conflict, by taking him, in the autumn of 1845, and the spring of 1846, through the more fertile and happy north, where we are told that better management has produced better results; there we shall find mementos of deep interest, when, ages now passed away, this people stood out to surrounding nations not as a "byword and hissing," but as a noble example of religion, industry, and prosperity, which few if any could then present. And though its early history is quite obscured by fiction, and interlarded with poetical romance, yet all this serves to prove that the remains of a true coin are there, or a counterfeit would not have been attempted.

Not only in the north, but scattered over the whole island, are found inscriptions on stone, some standing above ground and others buried beneath, which, by their dates and hieroglyphics, tell you that centuries ago men lived here, whose memories were honored, not only for their valor in war, but for their purity of life. It was not till I had faithfully explored the interior and southern coast, that the early history of this people had been much studied; as my object then, was to see them as they are found in the nineteenth century, without investigating particularly their age or pedigree. In my later excursions facts so startled and convinced me that their pretensions to former prosperity and greatness were not fabulous, that I regretted for my supineness on the subject; for I found by well authenticated history, that the common saying among the peasantry that Ireland was once "a land of saints," was founded in more truth than her enemies or even friends are ready to acknowledge; and the belief is quite confirmed in my mind, that when searching for truth concerning a nation "scattered and peeled," as the Irish have been, the true ore can better be found in the unpolished rubbish, in the traditions of a rude nation, retained from age to age, than among the polished gems of polite literature, written to please rather than instruct, and to pull down rather than build up. It has never been my lot to meet with a straightforward, impartial, real matter-of-fact work, written on that devoted country, till since the famine commenced. It has been suggested that an Irishman could not write an impartial book on his country, and an Englishman or Scotchman would not.

The last three years have abundantly proved, that there are many Englishmen, who can not only feel, but act for that poor despised island, who would rejoice to see her rise, yes, who would and do take her by the hand, who not only talk, but make sacrifices for her welfare; and let me record it with gratitude, that posterity may read the efforts they have made and are still making, to place this down-trodden people among the happiest nations of the earth. Gladly would I record, were the privilege allowed me, the names of those Quakers, those Dissenters of all denominations, and many of the Churchmen too, who have done much in the days of darkness, for the starving poor of that land; yes, let me record as a debt of gratitude I owe to England, the scenes I have witnessed, when some box of warm clothing was opened, when the naked, starving women and children would drop upon their knees, and clasp their emaciated fingers, and with eyes raised to heaven, bless the Almighty God for the gift that the kind English or blessed Quaker had sent them; and while I was compelled to turn away from the touching view, my heart responded Amen and Amen. Let this suffice, that when in these future pages truths may be recorded that will not always be so salutary, yet be assured these truths are such as should be told, and they will not meet any cases mentioned in the above—in other language, they will not fit where they do not belong.