O'Connell's Library

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XX (10) | Start of Chapter

A circuitous well-made road winds, down the mountain, and you see not the indescribable mansion that is embosomed in rock and tree, till within a few paces of the spot. Here no walls or surly porter, demanding a pass, hedge up the entrance; but a path like that to a New-England farmhouse, leads you on, and you may take your choice of entrance into the heterogeneous abode, by kitchen, chapel, or hall; choosing the latter, I rang the bell. An old man answered, saying, "I am only a stranger, and will inquire if you can have admittance." A waiter came next, and ushered me into the parlor, saying all were from home, but Maurice O'Connell and the house-keeper. The countenance of the latter was to me better fitted to drive away the enemy than to invite the friend; and the sequel proved more than I dreaded, when I met her cold penurious look and manner. She showed me into the library, which presented a tolerable assortment of Encyclopaedias, lives of saints, Waverly Novels, law books, &c. The drawing-room contained all that is needed for ornament or use. The portrait of O'Connell, engraved to the life, taken while in the penitentiary, and one taken some years before, are not the least objects of interest in the room. The portraits of his wife, daughters, granddaughters, and sons, form the most important ornaments in the house. Among the family group, are a brother and sister, the sister in the act of swinging, sitting in a rope; the little brother with a roguish smile, holding the rope, and a little dog looking on, enjoying the sport. It is the happiest touch of nature, in portrait painting, I ever saw. A chapel, not finished, is attached to one end of the house. A tablet giving its history and the name of the founder, is being in readiness, as a fixture for future ages. A well-fed priest was walking about, ready at any notice to perform any religious duty, within the pale of his conscience, for the good of the family.

The walks, the beach, and the foaming sea, the tower upon an eminence—the all-manner of shaped angles and triangles, added and superadded to the main body of the house—the place where it stands, and the person who designed it—all taken into consideration, make it a house and spot quite different from all others. I lingered, and looked, and left it as I found it, and can no more describe it than before I saw it.

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.