Laborers standing in the Market-place

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter IX (23) | Start of Chapter

On my return to my lodgings, I saw a company of men assembled in a square, and supposed something new had gathered them; but drawing nearer, found it was a collection of poor countrymen from distant parts, who had come hoping on the morrow to find a little work. Each man had his spade, and all were standing in a waiting posture, in silence, hungry and weary; for many, I was told, had walked fifteen or twenty miles without eating, nor did they expect to eat that day. Sixpence a day was all they could get, and they could not afford food on the Sabbath, when they could not work. Their dress and their desponding looks told too well the tale of their sufferings. When I had passed them, looking about, one was near me, walking slowly, picking a few shreds carelessly in his fingers, his countenance such a finished picture of despair, as said, "It is done; I can do no more." I three times halted, and paused to speak to him, but could not give utterance; as soon as I met his countenance, hunger, wife, children, and despair were so visible, that I turned away, and could only say, "Good God! have mercy on poor Ireland."

When I reached my lodgings, the landlord remarked, that every week the poor creatures are coming in from the country, and often they stay two days without eating, watching and hoping a chance may come; and sleep where they can; and then most of them go away, without getting any work. "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl."

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.