A Fellow Traveller

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter X (4) | Start of Chapter

The pleasant change now turned to a heavy cold mist, and a strong wind was blowing full in my face. The road was a complete bed of clay, but how could I go back, and how could I stay there? The way was quite lonely. Now and then a solitary cabin, with its duck-pond and manure-heap in front, hung out the sad insignias of desolation and filth within. I sat down upon a stone—yes, a stone. Ah! how many times have I in Ireland realised the literal import of "The shadow of a great rock in a weary land." My basket was heavy to my weary feet, when suddenly stood before me a clean barefooted woman, with neither bonnet, shawl, or cloak, saying, "God save ye kindly, lady; ye look wairy. Shall I take your basket a bit?"

O that sweet voice! I shall never forget it. Sorrow had mellowed it, for she had passed lately under the merciless hand of oppression. "And how far may ye he walkin'? I am on this way a bit, and will lighten the burden of your feet a little. I'm sorry to see so dacent a body walkin'. The likes of me are used to it." I felt interested to know her history, and inquired if she had a family. "No, thanks be to God, they're all dead but one little gal, and if Almighty God will spare her to me, it's all I'll ask of him." "Have you a house?" "No, praise God, when my husband died, the landlord hunted me from the cabin the night he was put in the ground." "And where did you find a shelter?" "Praise God, a poor widow, seeing my distress, took me in, and I get my bit as I can. The child is sick, and I've been to Loughrea this mornin' for a little medicine, and a morsel didn't cross my lips since yesterday." We were then seven miles from Loughrea, making fourteen that this barefooted, cloakless woman had walked, and it was now nearly three o'clock.

Two miles we walked and talked together, and many a judicious hint did I gather, many a little unmeaning disclosure of the sufferings of the poor by the oppression of their masters, and many a fulfillment of the promise of God to the widow, in the unexpected helps she received when desponding. We reached the muddy lane that led to the cabin, she returned me the basket, and for the first time since in Ireland I felt a rising murmur that I could not wipe the tear from the eye of the widow, by giving this one what would have been a little token of my kind feelings, and made her at least a comfortable breakfast. "I would not take it from a lone stranger like you," was the answer, when I told her my condition. How many hearts like these are aching in Ireland, and how unheeded do their sorrows fall on the public ear!

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.