Lord Bantry's Cottage

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XVI (13) | Start of Chapter

Being told there was no church held in the place, and that Lord Bantry was a Protestant, lord or no lord, I determined to venture to his house, and if possible spend the day with him. "He's a convairsable body, and he'll make ye right welcome," said one that I passed on the way. At the gate-house, the cleanly woman met me at the door, and kindly invited me in to take breakfast. This unexpected courtesy was more to me than she imagined or I could express, for I had expected to spend the day fasting, probably among the rocks in the glen, unless by good fortune the "convairsable" lord should be pacific. The neat little cottage, and cleanly-spread table, were such a contrast to the den I had just left, that I felt that "mercy had not clean gone for ever," and I was still within the reach of something human. Breakfast being ended, a little girl was sent with me to the top of a high rock, in view of the cottage called Lord Bantry's "lookout," from which the wonders of the glen are seen to good advantage. Descending the rock, the little Mary returned to prepare for chapel, and I ventured to the cottage of Lord Bantry. It had a picturesque thatched roof in part, and was situated in a lawn free from rocks, sufficient to distinguish it as the abode of the "lord of the soil."

This valley of romantic wildness cannot be described. To attempt a description of Glengariff would be a waste of words. Writers of different nations have told of its eagles' nests; its huge rocks flung together in all shapes, overgrown with moss and ivy; its lakes, rivers, and streamlets, its deep ravines and lofty mountains. And yet Glengariff can never he understood but by actual observation; by walking or riding, by every mode that ever man invented, with spy-glass and telescope has it been explored, and yet beauties and wonders remain untold.

I sent my card in to the noble lord; and he returned it by the hunch-backed girl in attendance, who civilly said his lordship was quite ill, was sorry he could not see me, but would send a boy to show me the curiosities of the glen. This was not the most desirable nor the most profitable way to spend the Sabbath, but stay in the whiskey-house I had left, I would not, and from the gate where I breakfasted the family had gone to mass, and locked the cottage. I followed the boy, who took me an intricate path, and stationed me before the game-keeper's lodge, and seated me upon a stone. The game-keeper's wife invited me into a neat little parlor, and showed me everything of interest about the mountain. She was English, and quite unreconciled to stop in Ireland. She was getting a Sabbath dinner, and showed me her bee-hives; and here I tried the strength of her hospitality. Having been told that the English in Ireland were not so courteous to strangers as the Irish, I made a trial by saying, I had been told in New York that Ireland abounded in honey, but I had not had the good fortune to meet any, and I was quite fond of it. She made no reply, nor offered me either milk, bread, or honey. I have since met with many English who were exceedingly hospitable, and hope I may have no just cause of complaint against my ancestors, with whom I am happy to claim affinity. When I reached the lodge, the hospitality was repeated by the generous offer of a room and board without any charges. What could be kinder, and what could be cheaper?

"The house where you stayed last night is not fit for any human creature, and you cannot be in a worse condition in any spot in the glen." "Blessed are the merciful." This family were English, had lived in Ireland twenty-five years, and had become so identified in every way with the country, that they preferred it to their own; and no stranger could suppose by their phraseology or warmth of heart, but that they were of the genuine stock of Irish. They were Roman Catholics.

Two days' rain kept me in the house, only giving opportunity for a call at the Saturday night's lodging-place to take my luggage. The man and his wife were taking breakfast at eleven o'clock. He was a pledge-breaker, and she a professed tetotaler, only taking her hot punch when going to bed, and he a besotted drunkard. When I told them why I left the house, and represented to her the disgrace and sin of her employment, she left her bowl of tea, and went away. He hastily arose, and took down a large Douay Bible from a dirty shelf, over the kegs of whiskey, and only wanted time to "discoorse me," to show both his knowledge of scripture, and the lawfulness of his employment. "Deacon Giles' distillery" could not have shown greater zeal. This wicked house had been, I was told, the ruin of the glen. It had been five years before baptized by Father Mathew, but he then gave pledges for a stated period, when requested, and when the time had expired, many rushed headlong into the fatal vortex. "They are too much for me," said the poor priest, "since that publican's house has been opened."

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.