Island of Valentia

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XX (4) | Start of Chapter

We crossed in a ferry-boat to the rock-bound island of Valentia, where the white billow was dashing in playful wantonness against every bold rock, which like well-built battlements, guarded the coast. By the skill of my guide a lodging-place was provided, though at first refused. The woman was followed into the kitchen, where my qualifications were so portrayed, that they won at last upon the young bride, who consented. This neat little spot looked like a haven of rest, compared with the town I had left.

The cottages were tasteful, the yards cleanly, and the little village was quite a manufacturing one. A slate quarry, of great extent upon the coast and upon the mountain, was in excavation; two hundred men, and sometimes more, here found employment for a shilling a day, and this has been in operation for nearly thirty years. An English nobleman, much beloved by the islanders, owns the quarry, stays continually upon the island, and spends his money there; his wife likewise is a pattern of goodness. His house stands upon the sea coast, with no wall but the surges of the ocean, which gives a happy relief to eye and mind while passing along this precipitous shore.

The light-house is an object of great interest, being built upon a rock, which was once Cromwell's fort; one of his cannons now stands upon the wall, fixed there as a memento of his heroic deeds. The family keeping the house are from Dublin, and quite accomplished. I went out and seated myself upon a rock, overlooking the sea, watching the poor women gathering the sea-weed and the dashing of the surges at my feet, till a sprinkling of rain, and the lateness of night, warned me of my distance from home. I thought of the poor exile of Erin, and wondered not that

"In dreams he revisits the sea-beaten shore,"

of his own beautiful isle, where the finger of the Almighty has pencilled so many sublimities as well as beauties. When I reached my lodgings I was as completely drenched as the poor women with their sea-weed, and had quite spoiled a valuable coat and velvet bonnet.

The house was tolerable, but the charge was so high that I went away quite dissatisfied, and gave them a cold parting; disgusted that any of the Irish should take advantage of Americans, who have so many of the destitute of that nation upon their shores. Going out to look at the slate-cutting machinery, the whole island seemed to be on the spot. One bawled out, "Here is a man who has been a long time in your country." The man responded, "How do you like Ireland? I hope they trate ye well. They ought, Americans are so kind to the Irish there. They are the kindest craturs in the world, ma'am, in Vermont." I found in myself that love of country and pride of heart, which I had endeavored to suppress, when he said that he had been in the town of my birth, and was treated with the greatest hospitality. The machinery for sawing, cutting, and polishing slate, is quite a curiosity, mostly performed by steam; and is a work of great utility, much to the credit of the proprietor. The island itself is on the whole a well regulated and cleanly place. The little church on the hill tells the traveller, that, though the worshippers are few, yet the assembling of those few together is not forgotten. The Catholics have a chapel on the other side of the Island.

My American friend was all attention, conducted me to the boat, and left me in the protection of a Kerryite, who was to accompany me on my way to Waterville. I took out a portion of the Douay Testament, which he read aloud as he walked, making comments which would have done credit to any who had been taught the Scriptures, like Timothy, from a child. The Word of God to the peasantry of Ireland is a treat which they greatly enjoy, especially among the mountains. As I parted with my companion, he kindly offered to send me his boy and donkey to carry me a few miles, if I would call at his cabin. I declined, for the purpose of seeing both the country and the people, and giving him the Scriptures he held in his hand, I said adieu, not without hoping that the ten miles' walk we had performed together, would be blessed by the Saviour to the good of this unsophisticated peasant. What an honor to be counted worthy to meet these poor of this world on their own level, and tell in their listening ears the story of Calvary. How many opportunities of doing good when walking by the way, as well as when sitting in the house!

I now reached, as the sun was setting, the neat little well-known cottage by the sea-side, called the "Sportsman's Hotel." I called for lodgings; at first was refused, because they were building an addition to the house, and had no place to put a "dacent body;" but telling them that I was an American, and easily packed away, I was immediately made welcome and comfortable. In the morning, offering to pay my bill, the woman declined any compensation, and sent me on to the "kind-hearted O'Connell's," where she had seven years resided, and whose family she knew would treat me with the utmost civility, adding, "I was told never to let a stranger pass the threshold without placing food before him." Leaving the little town, the crowd was so great, that I enquired where could so many lodge as met me at the doors. One gentleman in good costume came out, invited me in, whispered to his wife, and she put down a couple of eggs, and I was urged to breakfast. Telling them I had just breakfasted, "Can I do anything for you?

You shall be welcome to anything we have, if you will eat or drink."

"I do not dispute an Irishman's sincerity when he offers kindness, especially if he is not an 'upstart' in life." "I am not Irish, but English; have been in America when a boy, and well remember their kindness."

In fact the kindness of my country appeared in quite a flattering aspect; and though as an individual, while there, I had not experienced an overcoming weight of the commodity, I was now in the way of getting it through another fortunate channel.

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.