Potatoes a Curse upon Ireland

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XXIV (5) | Start of Chapter

Roundstone, which might as well be called All-stone, stands upon a pleasant bay, and has a strand about two miles distant, of two miles in length, and in some places of nearly half a mile in width, of the finest white sand, and the most beautiful shells in the whole island. Here I spent some hours alone, amid the drifting of the sand, gathering shells, and endangering my eyes; almost threatened with a burial in the vast heaps that are piled nearly mountain high; my feet sinking deeply at every step. An ancient burying ground is back of the strand, and many of the dead bodies have been washed out, and have been found among the sand. The poor peasants, men, women, and children, were gathering sea-weed, loading their horses, asses, and backs with it, to manure the wretched little patches of potatoes sown among the rocks. They walked home with me to town, some of them with loads upon their backs which to me looked frightful. "This," said a fair young girl, who had rested her basket a moment upon the wall, "this is what the good God puts on us many a long day, and we mustn't complain." I must acknowledge I cannot comprehend how such unnecessary, unheard-of, degrading suffering can be made to sit on young hearts like this so uncomplainingly. Working a whole life for a potatoe! yes, a potatoe! "We have them for a rarity," said a young Irishman as he rose from his supper, "we have the lumpers three hundred and sixty-five days in a year." "A great blessing," I answered. "The greatest curse that ever was sent on Ireland; and I never sit down, see, use, or eat one, but I wish every divil of 'em was out of the island. The blackguard of a Raleigh who brought 'em here, entailed a curse upon the laborer that has broke his heart. Because the landholder sees we can live and work hard on 'em, he grinds us down in our wages, and then despises us because we are ignorant and ragged."

This is a pithy truth, one which I had never seen in so vivid a light as now.

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.