Remorseless Staring

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter IX (17) | Start of Chapter

Though not a simpleton did I see among the throng, yet there was the least semblance of refinement in look or manner that I had ever seen in any place whatever. Not one did I see that day which could tempt a desire for further acquaintance. But the ultimatum of all, the "head and front of the offending" was the staring. Their incoherent gibbering never stopped, except when they suspended all to stare at me. I can bear a common gaze with common patience, and am ready to acknowledge that it is natural, and that it is proper to desire to look at a foreigner when he passes, and to gratify that desire should not be censured. But here my case was dreadful, if not awful. I could not get out; the house was thronged. One would be pressing his way through the room to the stable, with a horse, and pause to take a survey from head to foot. Another would be tying up a bag, and suddenly stop, and look me full in the face. A third would let her burden from her back, minutely examine me, then turn to the master or mistress, and in Irish make her comments. In short, if I never was noticed before, this day I was a distinguished personage. Scarcely a word of English was spoken through the day, and therefore I could gather but little, only through my eyes, except by the woman and her honest pig. She performed in plain English.

When night arrived, all dispersed. My Connaughtman, who had entertained me the evening previous, again called to beg me when I should be in Galway, to go in and see that dreadful church where he had been so frightened; "and should ye see the man in black, then ye'll pity me." He insisted, too, that I should take him home with me as a servant. "And do ye think, Micky, the gentlewoman would have ye walkin' by the side of her?" said the landlord.

"Oh, no," said Micky, "I would walk behind her, if I could only see her country." However remote I might find the peasantry from society, however ignorant of books, however cunning, or however simple, they all knew something of America, and all were hoping some day or other to see it. Their questions would often be intelligent on the geography of the country, and often they would make serious blunders, yet all would be correct in some particulars.[4]

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.