Remarkable Vivacity of the Irish

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VIII (20) | Start of Chapter

Had the object of my visit to Ireland been to have rummaged castles and abbeys, old graveyards and bridges, for antiquities to spread before the public, the public (to say the least) must have said, "We have caught nothing." Many and most of these things I did visit, but they left no other impression than to convince me that a powerful, religious, and intelligent people must have inhabited this island; and they urged me on to penetrate into bog and glen, mountain and cave, to see the remains of this people, to ascertain what vestiges are left of the high-toned greatness, the magnanimity of soul, the sweet breathing of poetry, and the overflowing tenderness of heart, which must once have pervaded this isle. I must not anticipate; but here will say, that if you will follow my zig-zag path through bog and heathy mountain, I will show you in these fastnesses, and among these rocks, a people on whom the finger of God has left an impress that cannot be misunderstood. If you get weary, we will sit down by some sparkling rivulet, and lave us in the purest and sweetest water that ever flowed, but the water of life proceeding from the throne of God. If you get hungry, some mountain Rebecca shall say, "come in, ye stranger, and take a morsel, and we will set ye on yer way." Though not a torn leaf of the written volume of the word of God could be found, yet there emphatically this word is written, believed and practised.

Before leaving Roscrea, we will ascend to the top of the castle, and see the town. This ancient building is now used as a barrack. Dr. Downer, who politely showed it me, was well acquainted with its history, and observed, "you see what remains of its former greatness, and what a lesson it gives of the frailty of human grandeur." Cromwell had been here; and though it is said the memory of the wicked shall rot, yet his is still flourishing in the hearts of all Ireland.

At night had full proof of Irish merriment, illustrated by half a dozen young men from the country, who had come into town to assist a man in digging his potatoes. Finding they had no where to lie down after the fatigue of the day, they ate their potatoes, "and rose up to play." The dancing and singing were so boisterous, that they shook the cabin, and reached the ears of most of the neighborhood, who supposed they must be intoxicated. But all were tetotalers, and had not taken a drop; yet they never relaxed during the night, and the morning found them still in the same heart, though they had worked hard the preceding day, eating nothing but potatoes, nor slept any through the night. An Irishman, to whom the circumstance was related, answered; "The Irishman's merriment begins at his christening, and ends only when he has been well waked." It is even so. The poor Connaughtman, when at work for a rich landlord for four-pence a day, will eat his potatoe, sleep in a barn, he will sing and dance as merrily as the rich hunter about the lakes of Killarney.

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.