Infant School

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XII (11) | Start of Chapter

In the afternoon looked into a poor cabin. The woman received me kindly, but seemed depressed with poverty, said her husband had had no work for weeks. She had two children in an infant school, one seven and the other five; and though the eldest had been there years, and the youngest months, yet neither of the two could read.[8] Curiosity led me to this infant school; found them eating dinner, with each a huge potatoe in the left hand, and a tin cup of soup, out of which they were supping from the right. This was an additional proof of the habit I had often noticed in the Irish in America, that they always prefer eating the potatoe from the hand as bread, to using a knife and fork. This was a Protestant parochial school; but more Catholics in attendance than Protestants; and the teacher observed that the Bible was daily read; "and I find the children of the Catholics much more ready in the Scriptures than the Protestants, and make me much less trouble in getting their lessons. I cannot account for the fact, but so it is." The circumstance is easily explained. The Scripture which is expounded to them by their spiritual guides, is impressed as being of the most awful importance, and its consequences of the most weighty import; and when they get access to this testimony of God, they are prepared to treat it as such. The Protestant child relishes it no better than a stale piece of bread and butter, which he is often forced to eat as a punishment, when his stomach is already satiated. An intelligent gentleman from Dublin remarked, he was whipped through the Bible by a Protestant uncle when a child, and had hated it ever since.

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.