Irish Roads

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XXI (9) | Start of Chapter

I must proceed; the crust was finished, the mountain top ascended. I looked back, and could my voice have reached across the Atlantic, I would have shouted to them, "Come and see my enviable site." I was not willing to turn away from this enchanting eminence, but through the cleft upon the other side, scenes as beautiful caught my eyes. A wide extent of valley was spread out, interspersed with bog, heath, and grass, with the prepared ridge for the potatoe; far beyond were mountains, grand and high, lifting their proud summits; now and then a pleasant little lake was sparkling in the sun-beam. The smoke of cabins, and large flocks of noble-looking sheep, were scattered here and there. Some straggling children among the rocks saw me, and looking up, paused a moment, ran toward a cabin, and climbed upon a pile of stones. I shouted and shouted to them, but could get no answer, they seemed rivited to the spot, unlike all upon these mountains, who at first sight would generally run at full speed, sometimes screeching with fear, then ascend some eminence, and when I had well passed, burst out into a wild boisterous laugh, saying in effect, "She's gone, she's gone, and the danger is over." It was only in the wildest mountains that the children were timid, and this I was informed was occasioned by never having seen a woman with a bonnet upon her head; they supposed the bonnet was a part of the strange being.

As I descended the hill upon the other side, new scenes awaited me. The treat I had just been enjoying was too rich for constant food. The road now became almost intolerable, gravel stones had been flung on for ten miles, or more, without being trodden down; my feet soon were blistered, and walking was grievous. Bridges over small streams were not made, and I must cross upon slippery stones, or wade. I cannot speak ill of the roads of Ireland, for in most parts they are not only good, but faultless, and this would frequently have induced me to walk, had I no other cause. Often, when my indignation against the rags of Ireland would swell across the channel to the house of parliament, "Ah, but see what beautifully enticing roads have they made, for the bare feet of the beggars to walk," would be the soothing reply. But the road I was on had not been finished for the traveller. Never before could I realize the import of doing penance by walking with pebbles in the shoes; the tops of my boots were loose, and every few moments I must stop, and pour out the gravel-stones collected in them. Besides, I had turned from the route intended in the morning, which was to Killorglin, for the purpose of going through the Gap of Dunloe, and was told when it was too late that it would lengthen my route six miles.

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.