Excursion to the Killery Mountains, &c.

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VII (25) | Start of Chapter

This same priest was not able to walk, having been sick, but he was conveyed in a carriage to Mrs. Garvey's, and most courteously thanked me for coming into that miserable neighborhood, and offered to provide some one, at his own expense, to convey me into the Killery mountains, to see the inimitable scenery, and the wretched inhabitants that dwell there. In company with the wife of the curate, and the physician, I went there. The morning was unusually sunny, but the horrors of that day were inferior to none ever witnessed. The road was rough, and we constantly were meeting pale, meager-looking men, who were on their way from the mountains to break stones, and pile them mountain-high, for the paltry compensation of a pound of meal a-day; these men had put all their seed into the ground, and if they gave up their cabins, they must leave the crop for the landlord to reap, while they must be in a poorhouse or in the open air. This appeared to be the last bitter drug in Ireland's cup of woe! "Why," a poor man was asked, whom we met dragging sea-weed to put upon his potato field, "do you do this, when you tell us you expect to go into the poorhouse, and leave your crop to another?" "I put it on, hoping that God Almighty will send me the work to get a bit."

We met flocks of wretched children going to school for the "bit of bread," some crying with hunger, and some begging to get in without the penny which was required for their tuition. The poor little emaciated creatures went weeping away, one saying he had been "looking for the penny all day yesterday, and could not get it." The doctor who accompanied us returned to report to the priest the cruelty of the relieving officer and teacher, but this neither frightened or softened these hard hearts. These people are shut in by mountains and the sea on one side, and roads passable only on foot by the other, having no bridges, and the paths entirely lost in some places among the stones. We left our carriage, and walked as we could; and though we met multitudes in the last stages of suffering, yet not one through that day asked charity, and in one case the common hospitality showed itself, by offering us milk when we asked for water. This day I saw enough, and my heart was sick—sick. The next morning, the Protestant curate wished me to go early to the field, and see the willing laborers in his employ. He called one to the hedge, and asked if he had the potatoes in his pocket which he had gathered some days ago. The man took out a handful of small ones. "These," said the curate (the tear starting to his eye), "are what this man found in spading up the ground here; and so little have his family to eat at home, that he has carried them in his pocket, till he can find some little spot where he may plant them, lest if he should leave them in the cabin, they would be eaten." This man had a family of four to support on the fourpence earned in that field.