A Snug Protestant Farmer's Household

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VIII (23) | Start of Chapter

It was October 29th, when I resolved on leaving Roscrea, and walk to the Protestant friend, five miles on my way, where the boys were to have the lumpers prepared some mornings before. The road was very muddy; the good woman who was so obliged by the sixpence would go with me to carry my basket. Rain soon began to pour, and we returned. Sitting down, meditating what next could be done, John Talbot, a Quaker, entered, saying he had engaged a passage on a car of a friend, who would carry me to the spot where I wished to call. What could be brighter? the rain ceased, and I got upon the car with the Quaker and his lady, and quite soon enough reached the Protestant family, for the company of these friends was agreeable and instructive.

It was now nearly three o'clock, and making my way to the cabin, through a muddy lane, I met sights untold; but I will tell you what I can. There were two pigs, two dogs, two cats, and two batches of chickens just introduced upon the theatre of action, which were enclosed in a niche in the wall, and a huge pile of potatoes just poured upon the table for the workmen and children. A hole in the mud floor for the pigs and poultry to take their "bit," wooden stools and chairs to sit down upon, and a pot not inferior in size to any farmer's in Ireland. This was my friend's kitchen, and these were the appurtenances, and this was the nice family whose money was in the bank, whose children were trained by a superior teacher, and whose virtues wanted no finish but tetotalism. I thought I saw a sly look from the Quaker, and a meaning reciprocation from the spouse, when I was extolling the farmer on the car.

When my thoughts were a little collected, I said, "Well, my boys, the lumpers, I see, are ready." "They are for the workmen; father and mother are gone to Birr, and won't be home till nine o'clock." Birr was the place I had hoped to see before I slept; but it was now three o'clock, the road quite muddy, and the lumpers were not for me, and the father and mother gone. I resolved to test more fully the kindness of the Quaker, and entered his gate. "Thee had better stop, and rest thee till to-morrow; and then see thy friends." It was most thankfully accepted. It would be useless to say that neatness and comfort abode here; the good housewife made her own bread, and baked it as bread should be baked. They were Quakers, and that one word, in every nation, comprises all this. A supper of comfort, with fresh apples upon the table—the first I had seen on a table in Ireland—a cheerful fire, and clean bed, made me almost forget that a wide ocean separated me from the privileges of home. But another day was in prospect; this day arrived, and taking my breakfast at seven, I hastened away, about nine, again to the thrifty farmer's.

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.