Dreary walk through mud and rain to Roscrea

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XI (3) | Start of Chapter

It was night, and very dark, and the rain and storm increased. I set my face towards Roscrea, and was struggling with wind and rain, when I saw the smoke of a cabin coming out at the door, which a woman had opened, with a pot of potatoes she was carrying in. I inquired the distance to Roscrea. "You arn't a-goin' there to-night; turn into the house a bit; a smoky shelter is better than a stawrm. And why did ye not stop in the lodgin'-house back?" Telling her I was refused; "and did she think she never might be a walkin', and want a lodgin' place? Ah, she's a blackguard; she stands there sellin' whiskey from morning to night, to the vagabonds about the place."

This cabin had not one redeeming quality. Two pigs lay in one corner upon a pile of straw; three dirty children were on the hearth: a miserable bed, one chair, a stool or two, and an old tottering table, made the sum total of this domicile. And in addition to the smoke from the turf on the hearth, a copious volume was poured in from an adjoining room, from over a partition which extended mid-way up. What could I do here? Breathing was quite difficult; and, in or out, my case was no promising one. The poor man came in from his work, and sat down by a little low table, and held his arms around the edge, while the good woman poured the potatoes upon it. He picked out a large one, which he said weighed a pound, and, taking off the coat with his nails, presented it to me. I toasted it upon the coals, ate a part of it, and went to the door; and seeing that the rain had not abated, and that I must go, committed myself to him "who rides upon the stormy sky," and went out. "If I had a place, you should not go," the poor man said, as he saw me going.

My lot for the next two hours was not a pleasant one. The road was dreadfully clayey and hilly. I waded through darkness, mud, and storm; sometimes on the road, sometimes in the ditch; and but once met a human being, whom I found to be an old man, who pitifully exclaimed, "Ye'r lost! ye'r destroyed! and ye've two miles under ye'r fut to the town." These two miles were replete with realities—no imagination here. I reached Roscrea about ten, and everything in town was still, but the loud pouring of the rain. I was bewildered, and knew not a single street, till I saw by a lamp a girl; and inquiring for the market, found the old stopping place of the kind woman who had invited me to stay, when passing through. And the first salutation when she saw me enter, was, "I have no place to put you here—I am obliged to sleep on the boards myself."

My clothes were dripping with wet; it was past ten; and the rain was tremendous. "I believe that I am not to have a lodging in Ireland tonight," was my answer. "I will go with you to Mrs. T's." She went, I was refused, and the friend left me, and returned to her house. Mrs. T. said she had taken two more than her usual number, and every bed was filled.

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.