A Centenarian

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XXVI (8) | Start of Chapter

Here was an industrious tradesman, having half-a-crown a day for labor, leaving this, and saying at the onset he would not take a farthing. He took me through an ancient village, built after the manner of the huts where I lodged above the colony, with no roads but foot-paths; and the village being large, we were long in making our way through. As we entered, a ragged man was sitting on the top of his hut, with a company of as ragged children, sunning themselves; and seeing a stranger, he rose, and saluted the man in Irish, asking who I was, and what was my country. When he was told he cried out, "Welcome, welcome to Ireland, twice welcome." His children then all echoed the same. I turned over the wall, and gave them my hand, and as well as I could returned them my thanks. Never could he seen a more miserable group, and never was more kind-heartedness shown. As we passed on, the whole hamlet was in motion; those not in the way managed to put themselves there. The kind salutations, the desire to know everything about America, and the fear that I was hungry, almost overpowered me. One old woman, who with her fingers told me she was three score and fifteen, whose teeth were all sound, and her cheeks yet red, approached, put her hand upon my stomach, made a sorrowing face, and said in Irish, "She is hungry; the stranger is hungry." We were so delayed that we feared we should be limited in time, and we hurried on a couple of miles to another village of the same description, though not so much inhabited, being used by the inhabitants of the first as a kind of country-seat, common stock of all who assemble their cattle and sheep, to drive them upon the mountain for pasturage, to fatten them at a favorable season of the year. There were but a few now in it; but walking by a number of deserted huts, we came to one where sat an old woman and her two married daughters, by the sunny side of the hut. Asking the old lady her age, she put up her fingers, and counted five score; she asked for a penny, then prayed for me in Irish, and I asked her if she wished to live any longer? "As long as God wishes me," was the answer. "Do you expect to go to heaven?" "By God's grace I do." What could be more consistent, if she understood the import? Keem was now near. This mountain descends many hundred feet, nearly perpendicular, to the sea, through which is made a road about midway, and the pedestrian may look up to the top of the dizzy height, or down in the yawning abyss, as his nerves may best serve him.

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.