Asenath Nicholson
Chapter V (3) | Start of Chapter

The few resident landlords in this barony, containing in the year 1846, a population of twenty-eight thousand, were now reduced, by the extreme poverty of the tenantry, to a state of almost hopeless desperation.

The poor-house was a distance of forty miles to Ballina; and the population since the famine was reduced to twenty thousand—ten thousand of these on the extreme borders of starvation—crawling about the streets—lying under the windows of such as had a little food, in a state of almost nudity.

Being situated on the north-east coast of Mayo, it has the Atlantic roaring and dashing upon two sides of it; and where the wretched dwellers of its coasts are hunting for seaweed, sand-eels, &c., to appease their hunger, and where in many cases, I truly thought that man had nearly lost the image in which he was created.

This coast is noted for shipwrecks; and many of the inhabitants, in former days, have subsisted very comfortably upon the spoils.

A Mrs. D. called one morning to take a walk with me upon a part of the sea-coast, called “Cross.”

Nature here seemed to have put on her wildest dress, for in the whole barony of Erris there is but one tree, and that a stinted one; and this barony extends thirty-five miles.

But here our walk seemed to be through something unlike all I had seen. In some places nature appeared like a maniac, who, in her ravings, had disheveled her locks and tattered her garments.

In others, she put on a desponding look, as if almost despairing, yet not not unwilling to be restored, if there were any to comfort her; in others, the bold cliffs dashed by the maddening waves, seemed like a lion rising from his lair, and going forth in fury for his prey.

Three miles presented us with grand, beautiful, and painful scenes; the air was salubrious—the sun was bright; the unroofed cabins silent and dreary, told us that the ejected inmates were wandering shelterless or dead, many of whom were buried under the ruins, who were found starved in a putrid state; and having no coffins, the stones of the cabins were tumbled upon them.

Mrs. D. was one of those sensitive beings who are capable of enjoying the beauties of nature, and capable too of suffering most keenly. She had tasted deeply of sorrow—was a new-made widow—her mother had died but a few months previous—an adopted child, a lovely niece of ten years old, had died a few weeks before.

As we neared the burying-ground she pointed to the spot, saying, “There I put her, my fair blossom; and there, by her side, I put her uncle,” (meaning her husband,) “five weeks after; but you must excuse me from taking you there, for I could not venture myself where they lie, because they will give me no welcome, nor speak a kind word, as they used to do.”

We passed over sand-banks and ditches, to the cottage where her father and mother had lived and died, leaving two sisters and two brothers on the paternal estate. The cottage had no wicket-gate, no flowers nor shrubs; but standing upon the margin of the lake, it seemed modestly to say, “Walk in, my comforts shall be equal to all I have promised.”

The interior was neat. Here were the remains of an ancient family, who had “lived to enjoy,” who could walk or ride, could entertain guests in true Irish hospitality, for many a century back; but death had removed the head of the family; famine had wasted the tenantry; the fields were neglected; “and here,” said the sister who kept the cottage, “we are sitting as you see, with little to cheer us, and less to hope for the future.”

We visited the churchyard, which my companion thought she could not see—a brother offered to be her companion—and we found it upon a rising hillock, by the sea-side; it was a Protestant one, and a snug church had stood near; but the landholder, Mr. Bingham, had caused it to be taken down, and another built in a town or village called Bingham’s Town.

Here was another specimen of the peculiar grave-yards on the sea-coast of Ireland. The better classes have a monument of rough stones put over the whole surface of the grave, elevated a few feet, and cemented with mortar. The poorer classes must be content to lie under a simple covering of rough stones, without being elevated or cemented.

We waited a few moments till the sister, who sat down upon the grave of the little one, had indulged her grief for the two departed, and I only heard her say, “Ah! and you will not speak to me.”