Fearless Children

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XXII (15) | Start of Chapter

Children, it seemed, were peculiarly my guardian angels in Ireland; three times they have saved me from immediate destruction by their care and kindness. The rocks upon a part of this ridge are like an inclined plane put there by the Great Architect, and form a good security to the cautious. My young companions placed themselves in a condition to look over, lying down, while I held their feet; one hasty peep was all I ventured, it was enough. A young lad and two girls were tending cattle on this awful brow, sheep were grazing upon the brink, and little girls spent the livelong day sporting near its very edge, as unconscious of danger as the bird that flies over them.

O those sweet shepherd children! Everywhere on the coast I found them, and everywhere I found them kind and simple-hearted, knowing nothing of the contaminating influences of cities, and gentle as the sheep they are tending. Often have I seen them sitting on the brow of some hill, or on a rock, their silken hair waving in the breeze, their feet naked, a stick in one hand, and sometimes a leaf of a book in the other, and I blessed the Father of all mercies that he had left in one island of the sea, a people who still retain the simple life and simple manners of patriarchal days. From the sheep-fold was the sweet psalmist of Israel taken to be king, and in that humble employment was his heart moulded to all those soft touches, which so move the soul in his psalms.

When I looked on these Kerry girls, I thought, shall I pity such loveliness? Shall I wish to tear you away to pent-up cities, to cramp your minds to fashion's moulds, when here Nature, in all her forms and freaks, both beautiful and sublime, is before you! The mountain breeze is ever fanning their dark hair, they know nothing, they heed nothing of the vain show of the world, but are content, when at night they have herded their flock, to lie down in their cabin till the early dawn shall again summon them to the mountains. We asked one of these little girls, who was sitting upon the very edge of the precipice, if she had no fear. "Not any, miss," was the answer. I was glad to leave it, yet I could not but look upon what we had left as the most awfully grand spot I had ever visited.

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.