A Peasant Family employed, a rare sight in Ireland

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XV (8) | Start of Chapter

Wednesday morning.—The town was all in mourning for the sudden death of Father M'Sweeney, who was a favorite among Protestants as well as among Romanists. Shops were closed, and business suspended in all parts of the town, and the mourners went about the streets. In groups might be seen the inhabitants, talking of his worth, and saying "the like of him was not in all Bandon," and "the loss of him will never be made up." A Protestant observed, he was a "good adviser to his parish, and a peace-maker in the town, and his memory will long be cherished by us all."

Taking a walk far out of town, I went into a miserable cabin, where two old women and their two daughters were at their wheels, and a third old woman carding. This was an unusual sight, for seldom had I seen, in Ireland, a whole family employed among the peasantry. Ages of poverty have taken everything out of their hands, but preparing and eating the potatoe; and they sit listlessly upon a stool, lie upon their straw, or saunter upon the street, because no one hires them.

These simple-hearted women had never seen an American before, and all work was suspended to give me a thorough greeting, and to examine every part of my clothing; and when I took the cards from the old woman's hands, and they saw I actually knew how to use them, "aw, God bless the crater, and she aint above her business." Seeing about my neck a golden locket, which I told them was a memento of the kindness of Father Mathew, the old woman clasped it in her hands most affectionately, with blessings upon my head and on that of the "apostle," whose pledge she had taken, and all her family with her. In every cabin the name of Father Mathew is like music, and in the greater part of Ireland he lives in the heart of both lord and peasant. "Blessing, blessing on your head, the cratur," as I left, was poured upon me, till I was well out upon the street, "ye're a right wonderful woman, and that ye are."

At half past two a farewell to the kind Englishman's wife and children was given, and I was whirled out of Bandon, amid the din of saucy idlers, waiting about the coach, and one bawled out, "Mistress, a sixpence, and ye owe me a sixpence." When I was seated on the coach, he had handed me my basket, which was standing near by, and for this he demanded a fee. I had paid a porter for his services, and this was wholly an uncalled-for supernumerary. The coaches and cars make travelling one of the greatest evils encountered in going through the country. You are teazed till you allow them to do what you do not wish to have done, and then abused if you do not reward them.

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.