Courtesy of the Children of the Irish Peasantry

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter IX (6) | Start of Chapter

November 4th.—Early on foot. I commenced a walk to Ballinasloe. The sun rose most beautifully; such a morning my eyes had not greeted for months; nothing was wanting to make sky, cloud, air, and earth most charming, but the curse of poverty removed from this beautiful island, or the curse of oppression, rather. The poor laborers were going to their work, smoking or singing, their tattered garments but an apology for clothing. As I passed the wretched cabins, now and then the happy voice of some child singing a merry song greeted my ear, and on the muddy path before me heard a little girl of eight years old, who was seated on a car, driving an ass, humming a monotonous tune; and going to her said, "Good morning, little girl." "Good morrow kindly." "Will you let me put my basket on your car?" "I will, ma'am."

The manner which the children of the peasantry answer any question is quite pleasant. They never say "yes," or "no;" but "I have not,ma'am," "I will, ma'am," "I do, ma'am," or "do not, ma'am," &c.

"Where have you been, little girl?" I inquired. "To carry my father to town, ma'am."

It was early; she had been more than a mile, and was returning, singing, to her breakfast of potatoes (which she said she had not yet taken), clothed in miserable habiliments, and as happy as the child of a king. Getting a very pretty "Thank ye, ma'am," for an apple, I gave my interesting companion good morning, who said, "I must turn up the lane, ma'am." I looked after this self-possessed child, bare-headed, barefooted, seated on a car, guiding an ass, at that early hour, going out without breakfast, and surely she lacked nothing but to be the daughter of Lord Rosse to enable her to measure the distance of the planets at the age of sixteen. But hush! "she must be kept in her rank."

I met many interesting characters through the morning; and whether laborer or beggar, most of them were smoking, and none of them in a fretful mood. I talked a little with all, and scarcely spoke to one who did not drop something in my ear worth recalling. It is noticeable in all the peasantry of Ireland, that whether the idea be new or old which they advance, it will be given in such a novel dress, and in so unexpected a manner, that something new, and often something beautiful, will be suggested to the mind.

At the foot of a hill, two miles from the town, I sat down upon a stone, opposite a company of men and one woman, digging potatoes. "She seems to be a lady," said one, peeping through the hedge to see me. The woman left her spade, and did the same. I was about to enter into conversation, when a young man with his wife going on a car to the town, invited me to get up and ride. A long hill was before me, and the ride was acceptable. I resolved to avail myself of every invitation to ride on any vehicle, however humble; for two reasons—to rest me, and to learn more of the people than I could by walking alone. To be a peasant myself, was the only way of getting at facts which I was seeking.

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.