Religion and Filth

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XIX (12) | Start of Chapter

My table was in a room where the kind woman was obliged to throw down straw, to keep my feet from the mud while eating. This woman was very religious; mass and the rosary were all her theme. It was the last week in Lent, or rather "Passion Week," and "Passion Week" it was indeed to this devoted woman. She talked of Holy Jesus, the blessed Virgin, incessantly, when she was not scolding her servants and children to make them more devout. When a few moments could be spared, she would throw her cloak over her head, run to chapel, return, and drop upon her knees in any part of the house, bidding all to be quiet till her prayers were finished. Taking occasion once to say to her, that Christ commanded us to pray in secret, she looked with astonishment as though all was upset; and in a half hour she was dragging her little girl of six into a retired place to say her prayers, adding, "it will do you no good if you say 'em here." She wept much when I read some tracts, and regretted deeply that she could not read the Scriptures; "An' ye're the one that can read the Word of God." She was a strange compound of good and evil, and more to he pitied than derided. She seemed to hunger for what she could not obtain, and had ears to hear, but who should teach her? "She has done what she could" in her own way, and could heaven be attained by jumps and snatches, and "Passion Week" continue during her earthly pilgrimage, this woman would certainly be entitled to a prominent seat among the guests. My bed was a good one and a clean one, in this she said truly; but the giving a room to myself was a little slip of the tongue, for it contained a bed for herself, husband, and two children, besides another in waiting the first night, but the second a goodly host of Kerrymen were on the spot. A few moments before one, I was awakened by the clatter of three pairs of heavy shoes, and loud talking, and heard the woman say, "you can two of you go into the next room." "No, we'll all quat here," was the reply. They did "quat here" at the foot of my bed, and jabbered awhile in Irish, and then were snoring in full chorus through the night.

It would be no more than rendering what is just and equal to say, that I was neither lonesome nor afraid of robbers, and I really believe that the Irish peasantry are as free from coveting "other men's gold, or silver, or apparel" as it is possible for a people to be, wretched and poor as they are. They will ask for a penny with a very good grace, and load you with blessings when you bestow it, but they neither upbraid when refused, nor seem envious at the purse or equipage of any neighbor, however heavy or splendid they may be. "We must be content with what the Almighty God sends us," or, "must not fly in the face of God Almighty," seems not only a current phraseology in their mouth, but a fixed principle of the heart.

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.