Grievous Ignorance

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XXIII (5) | Start of Chapter

The day was unusually warm for April, the sun scorching, and my feet sore: I often found occasion to call at a cabin to rest. One woman was standing at a corner, waiting my approach, and called out, "Good morrow, ma'am; ye look wairy, come in and rest ye a bit." The simple manners of these unsophisticated peasantry are so much like the patriarchs of old, that, in spite of their untidiness, they cannot but be interesting to every lover of antiquity. "An' would ye take a sup of milk?" Telling her I never used it, "What can I get ye? I have no bread." I thanked her, and could only satisfy her by saying that I had just been eating some. She then sat down to admire my "comely dress;" a little boy came in, and she asked him who I was. "A lady, ma'am." "See how quick he answers; he knows ye are a lady, because ye're clane and proper." The ignorance of this woman was painful; she seemed to know nothing beyond her own cabin. Seeing that she wanted a pin, I gave her a couple of rows; the paper was red, and she admired it with great wonder. A son of twenty came in, and she immediately presented the paper to him. They both held it up, and endeavored to look through it, and both seemed delighted at the novel sight. I was really unhappy at seeing these innocent, kind-hearted creatures of want, dying for lack of knowledge. Yes, dead as to anything appertaining to this life, for they had no comforts for the body, and they lived neglected, and apparently knew little else but what instinct dictated.

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.