A Child's Mute Appeal

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XX (6) | Start of Chapter

Again was I left to myself, and the strange view around me; not knowing how to choose, which most to admire, or which to enjoy, so divided was my mind between mountain wildness, roaring dashing waves, green sea and rocky island, wild mountaineers leaping from rock to rock, or climbing up the wall made for the protection of the passenger upon the precipitous steep, and the amazed children who followed me in companies. Hearing the quick patting of feet behind me, I turned, and a little girl of about six years looked me in the face, saluting me in Irish, and anxious to be understood. Six others were in pursuit, leading each other, and jabbering in rotation. I saluted them, and the youngest screeched in fright, turning and giving side-glances. A little coaxing at length consoled her, and though she appeared to feel safe in my sight, yet had I dropped from the clouds in their midst, they could not have been more at a loss to know what the being could be. At length, all but the first who saluted me, turned up a stony ascent, and were soon out of sight in the mountain passes—as pretty a group of faces as town or city ever could produce. The little companion who staid behind, kept close to my side, looking me smilingly in the face. I gave her a penny; but this was not the thing desired, for she indifferently took it, looked at me, then up the mountain, settling her countenance into a look of disappointment. Then starting as from a reverie, as if some happy thought had directed her what next expedient to try; but seeing me at a loss to get her meaning, in apparent despair she turned through a niche in the wall, down a steep descent, to a cabin near the sea. I have ever regretted that I did not follow this sweet child, for she was clean, and her tiny white feet would have adorned the drawing-room of any lord in Kerry. I might have ascertained whether it was the instinct of hospitality, so strongly implanted in the Irish heart, or whether some case of suffering which she wished me to relieve, was the cause of her great earnestness. I looked after her, as her stealthy foot made its way cautiously down the rocks; and as I saw the last waving of her dark hair upon the breeze, I asked, why has a wise God left so much of his finished handy work to dwell in dens and caves of the earth, where hares and rabbits, owls and magpies, are the only companions to reciprocate their worth?

Seeing a hole in the wall, and a hut upon the other side, I crept through, and found a widow sitting in a corner, with a pig on the skirt of her dress, asleep, and three little children beside. Seeing no bed, table, or cupboard, but a nitche in the wall, in which were a couple of plates, I asked her where she slept. "Here, ma'am," pointing to a pile of straw by her side. She said she had a bed, but no place to put it. "I wish I had something to give you to eat, but I have not a bit of bread, nor a potatoe." "I wish I had something to give you," I answered, "for I see no way how you can live."

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.