Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XV

CloyneDifference between Upstarts and the really WellbredPractical Proofs of the sameWonderful Natural CavesCity Jail of CorkHumane GovernorPrison DisciplineTaking leave of a good manCharacter of Father MathewNo Monopoly in OrthodoxyA Night in BandonA Peasant Family employed, a rare sight in IrelandArrival at the miserable town of Bantry

Saturday, February 15th.—Mrs. P., her mother, and two children accompanied me in their carriage four miles to the ferry, leaving me three miles to walk to Cloyne. I had letters of introduction from the governess to a couple of families in high life; the first, born in obscurity, the second of princely descent. "You will see," said my friend, "in these two families the extremes of silly pride and genuine unostentatious nobleness of character—where if worldly distinctions claim any share in merit, they are the legitimate owners of a great share." A hurried walk, in somewhat an uneven and uninviting scenery, brought me at last to Cloyne. Making my way by inquiry, the house was pointed out, and a stupid servant took my letter, saying, "The young ladies are out," but soon returned from the kitchen, saying they had gone to meeting. She had left the note with a brother of the young ladies, who had broken the seal, and after a half hour of most tedious suspense, I regained the note, and went away to a neighboring house. I was soon called for by the sisters, who invited me in, and the first question after being seated was, "Is this the way the Americans dress? Indeed I thought they dressed very tawdry." "This is the dress which Americans would wear when travelling, madam." The character of Americans now went through a fiery ordeal. A gentleman had lately returned from New York, who testified he had seen Irish servants at halls, among the highest classes; and had at parties seen pies with crusts an inch thick, and so tough he could not bite them. So much for American dress, American republicanism, and American cookery, as a preface.

As Cloyne could boast of some antiquities, I was conducted to see the most remarkable, and the church built in 600 by the Catholics first claimed our attention. This church is now fitted up for Protestants, and retains as much of its ancient appearance as possible, claiming to be one of the noblest works of antiquity. The hieroglyphics on the stones under which the dead are deposited, and many remains of ancient workmanship, tell emphatically for the taste of the ancients, as well as the passing away of all that is earthly. The chapel where service is performed contains the bishop's throne, which by some amalgamation has been doomed to be the seat where all bishops, either Protestant or Catholic, must be ordained. Tablets, ancient and modern, are upon the walls of the aisle and church; the aisle is the width of the church, and longer than the chapel itself, and seems to be waste entirely. Next to the bishop's throne, my young heiresses told me was their pew, claiming to hold the highest rank in the church!

We next prepared for an ascent into the tower, which is the most complete of any in Ireland, built by nobody knows whom, nobody knows when, and nobody knows for what purpose. It is now used for hanging a bell, to call people to church. We ascended a flight of steps to the height of 102 feet, and had a most commanding view of town and adjacent country; but so perpendicular were the stairs, that I was tolerably crippled for two days following. It was night when we reached the domicile of these newly estated misses, who did all that was rational to make me comfortable, so far as eating and sleeping were concerned, minding to entertain me with the out of the way vulgarities of New York, its common-place magistrates, its little respect to rank and fortune; assuring me that their authority was good, emanating from an assistant editor of Gordon Bennett. But Sabbath morning was the test of the civility of these religious housekeepers, for they assured me they were communicants in the church. As the bell was ringing, the eldest observed, "you will stay at home with me to-day, I am not going to church."

"Why stay at home? You say your minister is a good preacher, and why should I not go to hear him?"

"O, the people stare so strangers."

"What, in the old refined town of Cloyne, and where the people, you say, are quite religious! Surely they do not go to worship God, if they are so proverbial for staring at strangers that they must be kept away!" I waited with bonnet and coat on, till the bell ceased, and then inquired, "have the sisters gone?"

"O yes, they would not stay till the services commenced, because people stare so."

"I will make my way alone," was my answer; and the polite sexton, wishing to show a stranger all due respect, escorted me through the church, and showed me into the honorable pew next the throne, where the two young prudes were seated, with prayer-book in hand, so intent on their devotions that they heeded me not, till I called at the foot of the stairs leading to their chamber to say a "Good bye." The two elder sisters had prepared me a good dinner, and received me on my return with much cordiality; and as my visit was now terminated, the eldest sister said, "You must not walk to Mrs. Fitzgerald's. We have a good jaunting-car, and will send our man to convey you thither." But listen, reader! The jaunting-car proved to be a cart, with a bunch of oaten straw for a seat, and when all was equipped, the elder sister said, "We wish you to tell Mrs. Fitzgerald that you rode on our jaunting-car to the lodge; and be sure you get off at the lodge, and she will not see you!"

This was too much, and indignantly I said, "I won't, I will not lie for any one;" ashamed at the silly pride, but more at the impiety of the eldest, who acted as mistress of the family, and who ten minutes before, while at my dinner, had been telling me of her late conversion to the love of the Christian religion.

This was a fair specimen of many such, started by accident into an estate. These daughters had lately become heiresses to an inheritance by the death of a grandfather, who having no lawful heir, left his patrimony to their father, his illegitimate son. The daughters, wishing to get into society to which by birthright they were not entitled, endeavored "by hook and by crook" to make up for all deficiencies of high blood, which in Ireland is the ultimation of all silly aspirants to nobility. It is not her strong forte, but her weak side, her silly, her effectual drawback to real excellence, especially in woman. The Irish women, were it not for this discrepancy, would stand out as a model of all that is dignified in their sex; for, wherever can be found the legitimate possessors of princely birth and education, there is found a dignity, blended with the most refined affability, which makes the meanest dependent feel she is in presence of a protector.

Saying a long and lasting adieu, not forgetting the absconded prudes who had kept themselves secluded from sight since their return from church, I ascended the cart, which would have been declined had not rain and stiffness, occasioned by climbing the tower, made it imprudent to undertake a two miles' walk. The driver, true to his trust, dropped me at a respectful distance from the lodge, in sight of the mansion, which was on the top of a hill in a place called "Rock View." Here was a genuine noble family, of the true Irish race, of olden blood, wealthy, unsophisticated, unassuming, and condescending. The mother, a widow, with eleven children, all of whom she had well educated, and elevated to respectability in different stations in life, was in the midst of her household, as the centre of attraction to which they were all drawn. With courtesy they received me as the bearer of an introductory note from a friend, and as a stranger. The accomplished sons and daughters of this family alluded not to any higher lineage of their own than the meanest peasant. Their religion was Roman Catholic, but had I not seen a crucifix in the daughters' bedroom, I should not have known it.

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.