Grand Prospect from the Summit

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XXV (15) | Start of Chapter

The first sight was so picturesque and dazzling, I supposed my eyes were deceiving me, that the almost supernatural exertion had dimmed the true vision, and false images were flitting before them. Not so. A true map of the most beautiful varied finish was beneath me. Hundreds, yes, thousands of feet below me, were spread out lakes and islands in the ocean. Fifty islands I counted upon my right hand, bordered with various colors, some fringed with sand, and some with gravel, some with grass reaching to the water's edge. On the left was the bold island of Clare, looking like some proud king over all the rest. The sun was shining in full slendor, giving to all the appearance of a fairy land. The top of the mountain is oblong, and so narrow, that, had the wind been violent, I should have feared that I could not retain my footing, for the descent on every hand was almost perpendicular.

Here is an ancient pile of stones, and a kind of altar, on which the prints of St. Patrick's knees are shown, which he wore in the stone by constant kneeling. Here, by some mystical virtue or power, he banished all the serpents; and whether, like the devils which entered into the herd of swine, these serpents had the privilege of entering into some other animals, or into men, certain it is that they do not show themselves in any tangible shape in Ireland. The sun was declining. I sang, and called to the inhabitants below; but they neither answered nor heard me. The descent was now the difficulty. There was another and safer path upon the other side, but this I did not know, and the frightful road was undertaken. One misstep of my slippery Indian rubbers, one rolling of a stone upon which I was obliged to step, would have plunged me headlong. I felt my dependence, yet my nerve was steady. I trembled not, nor was I fearful; yet I felt that the cautions given by the schoolmaster and others near the mountain were no fictions. The sun had not two hours to shine upon the pinnacle, and I on its slippery side, nearly three miles from the abode of men. God's mercy never to me was more conspicuous than when I found myself unhurt at the bottom, for this mercy was shown me in my greatest presumption. I was not going here to see the poor, to instruct the ignorant, or to do good to any child of want. I went to gratify a desire to see the marvellous, and in the face and eyes of all kind caution to the contrary. I pray God I may never be so presumptuous again. When I reached the cabin where the boy was refused, I told the mother that had she sent him, I should have paid him well; but when I found her great concern for my safety was only to make a shilling, I would give him nothing. She immediately brought forth a plate of potatoes and a fish in return for my lecture, without a reproachful word, put them on a chair before me, and I ate a potatoe and went home to Westport, fatigued, yet happy that I had seen what I had, and had accomplished a feat which I was told neither man nor woman could accomplish alone.

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.