Basket of Bones

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XXIII (7) | Start of Chapter

We were now joined by a woman who had walked from Gort to Oranmore the evening previous after four o'clock, and was now, with a burden on her back, going to Galway. She said she was forty-seven, the mother of nineteen children, and but three of them alive; the youngest that died was two years old. Gay and cheerful, "light of foot," she was quite an interesting object. We were soon joined by an old woman, who was sitting upon a wall, with a basket upon her back, which caused my coachman to quicken his speed, declaring "the same that she carried in her basket was enough to give us all the plague, and I'll not be her company," whipping the poor ass, while the old woman was determined not to be outdone—the American lady she must see. The first good woman was quite annoyed, and begged her to keep a little off. "What," I inquired, "are the contents of the basket?" "A dead horse's bones, which she's goin' to sell, ma'am." This was to me a new, degrading, and humiliating mode of earning bread, which I never could have thought woman would be compelled to underake. Three well-dressed young ladies mingled in the group, for they had a curiosity to get a glimpse of the American, and accosted me quite pleasantly, not in the least regarding what company was about them. But the man, by jerks and blows, succeeded in leaving the bones in the rear before we reached town.

What subjects for contemplation has this morning presented! The humble clean family; the uncomplaining children going out to school without any breakfast; the suffering man still retaining a sense of honor in refusing the money, and a sense of propriety in escaping from the woman and basket; the sad state to which a country must be reduced, when the cheapest article of food could not be purchased by the poor in a season of plenty, sufficient to make them comfortable; and where woman is made to be anything but what God ordained or fitted her to be, the dishonor instead of the "glory of man."

I gave the poor man a few pennies more than the sixpence, and this so affected him, that I was glad when he bade "God speed," and hastened to buy his potatoes. Was it ever so with any people? And will God always see the poor man's want, and not relieve him? If the cries of Ireland do not reach his ears, their patience surely must, and he will come in judgment or mercy to their aid.

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.