Rambles in Glengariff

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XVII

Rambles in GlengariffHousehold ManureKind Little GuideA Gallant OfferSplendid Interior of the Slated HouseA Rare and Lofty LarderPerilous TransitWild NativesDwelling of the Three SistersSpiritual Fallow GroundMan sometimes behind the Lower AnimalsThe Author delivers a Short SermonGood-bye to Glengariff and the Hospitable Family of the GatekeeperLakes and MountainsPublican versus PriestRide among Turf BasketsEarly Matrimony

Hearing there was a Protestant school in a distant part of the glen, with the guidance of the little "sure futted" niece of my benefactress, I made my way thither. On our route we passed a couple of rocks, celebrated for having been the abode of a family of seven for three years and a half. Lord Bantry at last built them a cabin, and turned them into it. This novel habitation is composed of two rocks, meeting over head, like the roof of a house, and so wide at bottom that there was room for a bed-stead. A fire was built by the side of the rock inside—"As all the world might see," the smoke issuing from the apertures at either end, according to the whim of the wind. The upper ends of the rocks are so snugly joined, that they could be closed with leaves and brush, as the occupants might choose. It seemed impossible that the room could contain seven living moving beings, with "all appurtenances to boot;" but so it did. The good woman was often heard singing at her wheel in front of her house, where she sat spinning by the side of a clear stream, under branches of evergreens, while her five ruddy children were playing around her. Many a passer-by, on his way through the glen, turned in "to see this great sight," and left a little in charity, which kept these happy tenants more than content; for it is said they were quite unwilling to leave when the man-built-cabin was in readiness.

Our path was over rocks, through mud and bogs, till we reached the abode of the Protestant teacher, who was sick, consequently her school was suspended. She had two infants, the youngest two days old, and was living in the house of her husband's mother. Though they could boast of Protestant rearing in the town of Bandon, and were comfortable in land and cattle, yet the cabin was a genuine dirty one, bearing the same marks of degradation as their less enlightened neighbors. The teacher showed some specimens of needlework, which were quite creditable, and conversed with a share of good sense; but the impress of the virtuous woman, "who looketh well to the ways of her household," was not there. She had five pounds a year for teaching, three of which were paid by a Protestant society, the other two by the parents of the children. It certainly told much for her philanthropy, to go upon this desolate mountain, and "do what she could" for the benefit of the wild mountaineers, for such a scanty remuneration.

A bowl of stirabout, glowing in melted butter, was presented by the mother, but I was not competent to the undertaking. With much difficulty I persuaded her to allow me to take my own way, for I had long since been so divested of sectarianism, that Protestant filth was no more palatable than Roman Catholic. I here speak plainly, because neither the scantiness of their means nor cabin made such intolerable housekeeping necessary. We then visited a national school, and here was a picture deserving a glen. A female teacher first saluted us, with a company of girls before her, plying the needle. "I taiches sowin', ma'am, and they gets along finely," presenting shirts they were making. "But do you give no other lessons?" "I doesn't, ma'am; they can go to the master if they wishes to larn raidin', but they says they bee's too old."

The master was busy at his desk, his cap put on with quite an air of dandyism, and the sly urchins were cutting and carving for themselves. At last the stripling approached, welcomed me very civilly, and added, "I am quite ill, am but young, and have much to learn before I can expect a great salary." This was good sense. His salary did not exceed ten pounds. In short, the school, as a whole, was such a place as every child should shun. A boisterous altercation took place between the master and mistress about the key of the closet, she insisting she would carry it home, as she should be first in the morning, and want the work; he protesting for that very reason he would not allow it, because he had articles that were valuable to him, and they should not be disturbed. She threatened to acquaint the priest. "The sooner the better, and ye'll find ye're talking to a man of sense." The children of the master, and girls of the mistress, manifested, by the lighting up of the countenance, that each was ready to fight for his or her own general; and we left, never learning how the battle was decided.

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.