Public Buildings in Wexford

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XIII

Public Buildings in WexfordUnexpected DelayAmerican FamilyA Rare LadyAppreciation of TeachersDoctors differDelightful FamilyOver-lading of VehiclesWaterfordClonmelCar Travelling and Companions on the RoadLodgings in Cork

Thursday, January 16th.—Another bright morning dawned, and I improved it by walking to the chapel, a fine one with a friars' convent and library attached to it. At a little distance is the nunnery. Over the town on the hill stands the college, a splendid establishment; the chapel has the most splendid stained window I had seen in all Ireland, and while admiring it, a devotee arose from his knees, accosted me civilly, and insisted I should go through the college, and then entered warmly into the merits of the church. Priests and students passed us, while, as each drew near, the ardor of the good man increased. Both logic and argument would here have been useless, and when the strength of feeling had subsided, for the want of opposition, he pointed me to the grand pile, containing college, chapel, the house of the priests, and a large house for the sisters of mercy which stands back of the college. Seventy students are here, preparing for the priesthood under the instruction of priests.

A holy well is on the wayside between the college and town, but the virtues of these wells are somewhat on the wane; the priests are not encouraging a resort to them, and but now and then a solitary devotee is seen kneeling beside their sacred waters.

From the college I went to the jail, and found my complaisant coach passenger giving orders to his men, who were building a large addition to the prison. He showed me the cells of debtors and criminals, which are exceedingly clean and well ventilated; the pavements about the doors and yards were tastefully laid out in flowers made of small stones, and at one door was the Irish harp and "Erin go bragh." Finding a school here, where the young found guilty of petty theft are instructed, I gave each of them tracts, and some portions of Scripture, and distributed them throughout the cells. The prisoners are all at work or at school when not sick; a novel sight to see shop in a common jail, and all kinds of trade going on, and a regular routine of education. I was introduced into a room called "Master Debtors," such as pay their own board, or rather such as find [fund?] themselves. Two women were here in a pleasant room; one, the widow of a British officer, had accompanied her husband to the West Indies, was intelligent, and seemed quite astonished at seeing me, supposing that I had come as an inmate. My laughing guide enjoyed it much, claiming the honor of bailiff. The bedsteads were all of iron, with comfortable coverings, a shower-bath, and a good pump of water near by. The women and girls, which were put in for petty theft, were sewing and knitting in a pleasant room. Their thieving was mostly for taking potatoes, driven by hunger to desperation, or some trifling article to exchange for food. Yet on the whole the place looked little like a house of punishment, and doubtless most of them were in a better condition than when at home.

From the jail, I went to the poorhouse alone. This stands upon a hill on the west side of the town, in a healthy romantic spot. The paved walks, with pebbles put in like those at the jail, first attracted attention. A middle-aged woman at the entrance begged for a "ha'penny to buy snuff." Telling her if she had food for her mouth, her nose would do quite well without feeding, and that I should do very wrong to give it to her for that purpose, she went away amazed. The matron approaching, I inquired if I could be shown the rooms. "Do you wish to be taken in?" she asked. "Not exactly then," I answered, "though I might wish to soon. I had come from America to see the country, its institutions, manners, and customs." She apologised, and took me into the hall, where the children were being seated at dinner. Three pounds of potatoes and a pint of buttermilk to each, "enough," I said to the keeper, "to well nigh cram them to death." The commissioners were entering to inspect the rooms. I was admitted among them, and shown the apartments. Seventy were on the sick list, many with eruptions occasioned by cleansing the skin, and giving clean food;[9] the old women all begging for a "ha'penny to buy snuff," till it was truly disgusting. Tobacco in Ireland is one of its greatest curses; it is a mania infecting all classes, from the lord to the beggar; and thousands are now strolling the streets in hunger, when they might be made comfortable in a poorhouse, because they are forbidden to use this nasty weed.

I offered some tracts to a company of boys who were making shoes, when an overseer interfered, "We take no tracts here, madam. Your books may be good, and your tracts good; but we have a valuable library and good schools. Here, sir," turning to the teacher, "take this lady along, and show her the books." After showing me the library, specimens of books, &c., I was politely handed out, and departed, feeling that an embargo had been laid on my inquiries and investigations, which I had met nowhere else in Ireland.

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.