Curly-headed Biddy

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XIX (14) | Start of Chapter

Curly-headed Biddy had lodged in a corner among the forest of legs, where she sat busily fixing her hair, when the mother bade her instantly go away, and say her prayers. Biddy heeded it not; "go away and say your prayers, I tell you, and say them in private, too." Biddy would not leave the warm spot till pulled out, and in a few woments she was in the gangway where I lodged, in the middle of the floor upon her knees, her fists together, and mumbling her prayers as devoutly as a mad child could do.

It was now eleven, and when the third or fourth pot-full was poured out, the woman asked me if I would take a couple of potatoes. I told her they had been boiled in dirty water, and besides every man who had a cane had washed it in the pot, so I must be excused. And here followed a profound lecture on the filth of the country, telling her that if the people had no other sins attached to them but this, it would be sufficient to keep them out of heaven. "To be sure it will; sloth and filth are two deadly sins. God save the poor Irish!" This was said with much feeling, and cruel as might appear so severe a rebuke on so humble a penitent, I enforced it with double severity by adding that the county of Kerry was the most hopeless of all places I had seen, and I could devise no better way of cleansing them than by hunting them out with dog and gun, and burning their cabins after them. She bore this with apparent resignation, not seeming to feel herself in the least implicated.

But the fair. This, like all other fairs, was managed by buying and selling to the best advantage, for the Kerryites are characterized by their tact in bargaining, as well as in all other movements. The men were certainly better clad than any I had seen at previous fairs, and what met my warmest approbation was, the corduroys were not numerous; substantial blue cloth pantaloons adorned the legs of most of the Kerryites. A stripling clerk of the parish priest's entered, and requested to examine my books, as their care over the flock required that they should be particular that nothing should interfere with their religion. "We wish to know whether your Irish testaments are a true translation, by a bishop of our own church." Showing him one, he could not satisfy his mind without taking it away for a close examination. "We have had some trouble in this part of the country, by men professing to be teachers, and sowing errors among the people. And are you, ma'am, sent out by any religious sect?"

Answering him that I was sent by none but by the Lord Jesus Christ, and, as far as I was capable, his doctrine and his alone was what I inculcated, and what I should inculcate, and these doctrines I found contained in that book he held in his hand—he walked away with the Testament to decide on its merits, promising to see me again, but never did.

"A fight! a fight!" was now the cry.

"Up flew the windows all."[16]

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.