A Faction

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter V (15) | Start of Chapter

Saturday evening.—After having paid an agreeable visit in the vicinity, I started by moonlight on a car for Urlingford, accompanied by a faithful servant girl, to guide the horse. I sat with my back towards the animal; for this is the way of riding on a "common car." When within a mile of the town, we heard music, and supposed it to be one of the Temperance bands with which the country abounds. But on coming nearer, we saw a motley company of men and women, with spades and baskets, some on foot and some on cars, following the sound of fife, flute, and drum; and upon inquiry we found it was "the faction."

The custom of the peasantry, in this part at least of the country, has been to assemble in hundreds, and reap down a harvest, or dig a farmer's potatoes, taking their musicians with them, who play through the day to amuse the laborers, and escort them home at night. This they never do but for those whom they respect, and the generous farmer who has fed and paid his laborers well, is sure to meet with a return of this kind. Women will go out and bind sheaves, rake, and toss hay, pick up potatoes, &c.; and the sight to a stranger is not only novel, hut pleasing. The ambition manifested to accomplish much, and to do it well, is often beyond that of a paid laborer, and the hiliarity over their dinner and supper of potatoes and butter, and "sup of milk," is to a generous mind a pleasant sight; for, drunk, or sober, rich or poor, it is the Irishman's character to remember a kindness, and to do what he can to repay it. We passed this interesting company, listening to their music till it died away in the distance; and though I knew they were going home to lie down in floorless cabins, with no prospect of better days, yet for the moment I saw more to envy than to pity; for these people are so happy with little, and make so much from nothing, that you often find them enjoying when others would be repining.

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.