Dialogues with the Poor

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter II

Dialogues with the PoorAn English ProphecyClontarf CastlePlan for the Relief of the DestituteA Dying SaintJourney to TullamoreFamily AfflictionVisits to the PoorThe JailThe PoorhouseIrish BeggarsA Scene on leaving TullamoreReturn to DublinExtraordinary Spectacle on the RoadConnaught LaborersThe Two ConvictsA Man's Merit cannot be judged by his CoatAnother Visit to the DyingA Military Congregation

"Come, ladies, the morning is sunny. You have taken your tea, and a little excursion into the outskirts, where the air is free and balmy, will do you good. A kind look and word to the poor of this world would cost but little, and it might resuscitate some dying hope, and wipe some falling tear from the widow's or orphan's eye." I must go alone, and my first letter of introduction meeting such a sad repulse, I fortunately substituted "American stranger." It was a day of interest, not because I was in a great city, not because I saw squalid poverty in every street, but because I saw this poverty standing out in a kind of self-possessed freedom, which seemed to say, "Though I am divested of my beauty, though I am shorn of my strength, there is in me a germ of life that shall one day come forth." Its very antiquity commanded respect. "Do you think," said a grey-haired old man, "that Ireland will ever see a good day? Though my ould eyes will never see it, my children's may; for God is good."

He was leaning upon a wall, covered with rags of various colors, yet cheerful and uncomplaining.

"And what, sure, sent you here?" cried a wretched looking woman, bearing a little mug of beer. "You must be going astray in yer mind to leave so fine a country. The Irish are all kilt, ma'am. They can get no work and no bread."

"But why do you buy this beer if you have no bread?"

"Ah! I've a pain in the liver, and it's for my strength I take it."

"Where do you live?"

"I don't live nowhere; I'm only strugglin' to get my bit;" at the same time sitting upon the ground, and saying to herself, "God save her, the cratur, she's goin' astray in her mind."

I went into cabins of filth, and I went into cabins of the greatest cleanliness, whose white-washed walls and nicely scoured stools said that "she that looketh well to the ways of her household" lives here. All ages saluted me as the American stranger, and said one, "Ye'r a wonderful body; and did you come alone? Oh! America is a beautiful country, and if I was there I would get the mate." Seeing a repeal button in the coat of a man standing by his car, I inquired, "Do you find employment, sir?"

"But little, ma'am; I suffer much, and get little. O'Connell has worked hard for us, and is now in jail. I'm waitin' here for a job, and the thief of a fellow won't get on to my car with my repeal button in sight. But I will wear it. Oh! the country's dyin'; it's starvin'; it's kilt. And O'Connell wont let us fight, and I 'spose that's the best way."

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.