Cabin Theology

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter X (5) | Start of Chapter

Alone I hurried on over the solitary way, the most desolate of any I had travelled. There seemed to be nothing on which man or beast could comfortably subsist; and no shop, where a mouthful of bread could be procured, greeted my eye. I had taken but a half-penny roll in the morning, and began to desire a little food. Night came on, and unexpectedly I found myself in a muddy little village, and inquired for lodgings; was refused at first by two, and almost despaired; but a little girl introduced me to a house, which, if it had no comforts, had yet some novelties, and I had an interesting evening with the most ignorant people I had met, yet not deficient in Irish cleverness. The woman said she had no place but one, and that was filled with oats, which had not been threshed, but two very genteel ladies lodged there the preceding night. Oats are certainly clean dirt, and if genteel ladies had slept there, I assured the good woman I would not be squeamish, if she would give me a clean bed. But, kind readers, your eyes never saw that bed! Now all preliminaries were settled, and my "dacent clothes and proper discoorse" told that I had been well bred and born, and must have "a great dale of money in my purse." I then had just nine-pence, and was fifty miles from my place of destination.

The potatoes were boiling, and when poured upon the table, the mistress selected three of the finest and fairest, and flung them into my lap. This was the thing needed, for I had concluded to go to bed supperless, as I could do better without eating than sleeping. A neighboring woman was called in, and when she found that I was "so high born, that my accent was so plain, and that I could discoorse so beautifully," she was delighted. Pausing a moment, she abruptly said, "And do ye give in to the blessed Vairgin?"

"Aw!" said the other, "what's the use in talkin'? you can't confete with her." [I leave the reader, if he have an Irish dictionary, to interpret the technicals of the language.] Answering her, that I believed the Virgin was a good woman, and that she is now in heaven, but the Bible had never told me to worship her. "The Bible, the Bible! the Church says so, and that's enough."

"But God says, 'whoever adds to that book, he will add unto him all the plagues written therein,'" &c.

"There! there! I told ye so—I told ye, ye could'nt confete with her." Pat now entered, and hearing of my heresy, "Ye're wrong—ye're wrong." "There now, ye've got your match in Pat" answered the exulting wife. Pat told me that, "whatever I might plase to ask of the blessed Vairgin, if I asked in sincerity, I should be sure to have it, for she had more power in heaven than every saint there."

I begged the talented Pat, if he had nothing to do but ask any favor and it would be granted, to apply immediately, and have her remove them out of their poverty and filth, and give them their rights as a nation.

"There—there, Pat, ye may stop your discoorse. There now, ye can't confete with her, and I told ye so in the beginnin'."

"And did ye say ye don't drink the tay? Ye're the first dacent woman that's born and bred among dacent people that don't do that."[6]

"Aw!" answered the visiting woman, "there's no use in talkin'. She hasn't got sinse; that I see afore, poor thing! she'd never left so fine a country to be walkin' in this, if she'd the right sinse. Aw! she's crack'd."

I certainly admired the result of the kind woman's observation, and told her hundreds in Ireland, of better learning than she, had thought the same. "Give her the bed, the thing!" she said to the mistress as she went out; "she's wairy."

Now what could have been better? These ignorant, knowing people, when they had come to the conclusion of my lack of sense, or aberration of mind, took no advantage, but used more lenity; for though I had spoken lightly, as they thought, of the Blessed Virgin, and dishonored their holy faith, yet they imputed this to "a lack of sinse," of which my rejection of the tay, and laivin' my fine country, were abundant proofs.

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.