Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XXIV

ClifdenClifden CastleIrish HolidaysWalk to RoundstoneHardships of Irish TenantsThree Guides pointing three different waysPotatoes a Curse upon IrelandA Rough and Weary roadAbsence of TreesAn aged PilgrimGood WishesA Timely SupplyJudicious AdviceA Kind CurateA Connemara SchoolAscent of the Diamond Mountain, and Adventure by the WayTullyNo Bread to be had in the TownThe Isle of Oma, and the Natives thereofChange for the better in ConnemaraReturn to Clifden

Monday morning, walked in the rain to Clifden. Was directed to a lodging place, and found an intelligent Protestant woman, who immediately brought me tea and toast, as she saw me wet and fatigued. The romantic town of Clifden presented a novel appearance, built as it is upon a hill in part. The picturesque church stands on an eminence, looking trim and independent above its neighbors.

Visited the Protestant school, taught by a male and female teacher. The children are mostly Roman Catholics, and are partly clothed by the society, and are advanced to grammar and geography. Next I went to the national school, a great building gone to decay, the school kept by a widow for the paltry compensation of ten pounds a year. The boys had all withdrawn, and no interest whatever was taken in the school. Bishop M'Hale had prohibited the reading of those portions of Scripture appertaining to the lessons; and the teacher, though a Catholic, talked seriously of leaving the school on account of it. She is an intelligent woman, and at the time of her marriage had possessed a property of twelve thousand pounds, which her good husband had the art of spending in a few years. He is now dead, and she sits in a dilapidated school-room fifty-two weeks every year for a salary of ten pounds. I left the school, and ascended a difficult mountain to take a full survey of the town. It was a most picturesque view. Mountains of rocks on every hand, and the sea behind a little declivity; the scattered buildings here and there among the wildness of the rocks about the village, make one feel transported back to days of chivalry, when all the superstitious legends were in full vogue, when fairies were plying their skill, and knights and chieftains were the men of renown.

April 30th.—I walked forth after a shower, scarcely knowing or caring whither. I followed a neat romantic path till a splendid stone gateway met my eye, and, quite contrary to monarchical etiquette, the entrance was open and free. I received a hearty welcome from the good-natured keeper of the lodge, and an invitation to walk in and take a cup potatoe, "the best in all the world," she said. "Ye are welcome to go all over the grounds, no walls or gates preventing. And if the owner was at home, he would take ye through the castle." Her husband led me to the path, and left me to wander in the pleasure grounds where I pleased. A romantic pile of moss-covered rocks was the first object of curiosity. The roof was broken through, and water trickled from the rocks down to a channel under the stone-floor, which bears it silently away under ground. Recesses in the interior made this structure a still greater wonder, and seeing two laboring men, I inquired what it could be. "A grotto, ma'am. An' ye're a stranger from England, I s'pose." "No, sir, from America." "From America! America! welcome, thrice welcome. An' I see ye have the green badge of Ireland," alluding to my green coat, "and do ye know the shamrock?" picking a sprig and handing it to me; "Ye are Ireland's friend, I know, and do ye think we shall ever get any good? America is doin' much for us, an' we'll never fight for England." The chief speaker was white-headed, yet he expected to live to see Ireland have her rights. As they said, "God speed ye," I looked after these old men, and surely, I thought, it is true—

"Hope springs eternal in the human breast,

Ireland 'never is, but always to be blest.'"

Following the winding path, I soon found the castle, proud in height and architecture, embosomed in wood, without gate or wall. After surveying it on every side, I was more satisfied with its plan than any I had seen; for while it looked up in independent grandeur, it seemed to look down with a bland smile, and say to the humblest visitor, "I hope you are pleased." Going on through the wood, I entered a garden such as few domains could boast; tastefully laid out on mountain side and valley, without any enclosure, and gradually losing itself in woods among rivulets and cascades. The apple and lilac were in bloom, in the midst of these varied delights. Now appeared a fairy castle, a house with variegated pillars and open door, made of shells of the most delicate shades, arranged in stars and circles of beautiful workmanship. These showed exquisite taste in the designer, and must have been done with great cost and care. I found that a laboring peasant was the architect of this wonderful fabric, but he was kept most religiously in his rank, laboring for eight pence a day.

Not a spot in all Ireland had been to my liking so much as this, because it breathed such a republican air of liberty. Not a placard said, "No trespass;" no surly porter followed to say, "My master allows no one about the place without a written pass." But here the visitor may sit, stand, or stroll, fanned by the breezes of summer with the sweet scent of every flower, and feel that all was made for his enjoyment. Leaving the enchantment, I went to the rocky shore (for the ocean is dashing its waves in front of these delights), gathered a few shells, and returned by the sea-side, passing a monastery of monks where eighty boys are instructed, and where five monks now reside. Its style and comfort are not like Mount Mellary.

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.