Father Mathew

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VIII (19) | Start of Chapter

At eight o'clock the next morning, Father Mathew gave a stirring scriptural discourse on the importance of temperance, proving from scripture, as well as from facts, the sin of using ardent spirits. The concourse was immense, so that they "trode one upon another." At twelve o'clock he gave another address. His simple, unaffected manner carries that evidence of sincerity and integrity with it, that no one can doubt but he who loves to doubt. His unabating zeal is beyond all praise; yet at this late hour do I hear his name traduced by his countrymen, who are ascribing his object to a political one. Yet among all his traducers not one can be found who is an abstainer, whether he took the pledge from him or from some other one; and I should not hesitate to say that in all Ireland he has no enemies among the tetotalers; few among the drunkards; but many, many, among the moderate drinkers.

Monday morning he was again at the chapel, with hundreds of children urging their way, who

"Pluck'd his gown to share the good man's smile."

It was a lovely sight: angels could not weep at this—Not a child was frowned upon, though the crowd was pressing, so that with difficulty he made his way. Some of the little ones he took in his arms; on all heads he put his hand, within his reach. I ascended the gallery, and enjoyed an undisturbed view. A large circle was formed; in the enclosure of this circle were the children, kneeling down, clasping their hands, and lisping the pledge. Those who could not speak were carried in the arms of their mothers, and they, kneeling, repeated the pledge for them. Many a little one, when rising from its knees, did he raise in his arms, kiss and bless it, then send it out from the ring. Three hundred that day took a pledge to abstain from the use of tobacco in all forms. This dirty article he ridiculed, and begged of mothers to abstain from the shameful practice. Among all the motley group, not one child was heard to cry throughout the day, and they might continually be seen crawling on all fours, pushing their heads through the mass, to take the pledge, or make their way out from the circle. One little child of but two years and three months, when she took it, pushed her blue bonnet through the crowd, sprung to her feet, murmured in a sweet tone, "Fadder Matty," running about the chapel, nor could she be stopped. She was caught up, but would not be hushed, and when her name was asked, it was "Fadder Matty," till, by this continual chatter, she so attracted the attention of all, that she was carried from the chapel, and the song was heard till it died in the distance.

A few moments before four, the assembly broke up, and mothers and children ran after the good man, the mothers crying, "The baby, plase, wants the pledge." The pledge was given to many a baby in the chapel yard, and on the street, till the coach, which was about starting, shut the kind-hearted man from their sight.

I succeeded to reach him through the crowd a letter of introduction, and only had time to say, "I hope to see you in Cork." This was a day of great triumph to Father Mathew. "My hope, my strong hope," he said, "is in the children; they never break the pledge; and if the rising generation can be saved, the great work will be accomplished."

I had heard much of this man in my own country, but here I saw him, and must acknowledge he is the only person of whom I had heard much praise, who ever met the expectation given. He more than met it; he passed it by. He was farther removed from all that could render him suspected than I had supposed, and I was convinced that acquaintance must remove all honest distrust.

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.