Splendid Interior of the Slated House

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XVII (4) | Start of Chapter

In half an hour we reached the slated house under the mountain; and, as a slated house is considered a step in advance towards gentility, and the tenant of this had leased the whole "Eagle's Nest," and all were subtenants under him, he deserves a conspicuous place in the history of this glen. The entrance of the house was blockaded by an old worn-out horse, with two baskets of lime on his back, which the mother and two daughters were striving in vain to let down. The maidens stepped aside, and we crawled under the straw bridle of the horse, and entered a room, which could boast the same lineage as the one I had visited in the morning, only the manure was not so evenly patted down, but was in isolated hillocks about the room, and the calf and pig were leisurely walking between them. The conveniences were all near the fire, but the old lady made a breakage of sufficient width to place a stool, and a piece of turf to elevate my feet from the ashes. Here I was seated, with all the family around me upon the hearth, except a boy, whose gaping curiosity could not draw him from a ladder on which he was swinging in one corner of the cabin.

"Do you read Irish?" I asked the woman. With a pause of astonishment she looked upon me, then upon her girls, and, with a child-like laugh, said, "I read! the like of me read! Not a hap'orth of Irish or English." The daughters were in like condition, and as much diverted at my strange question as the mother. Speaking of the goodness and mercy of God, they sobered at once; and after talking a few moments, we left without presenting any books, as they could not read.

We tried another cabin; in like condition, only darker, and the roof thatched. Then attempted a third, but here the pile of manure was so elevated, and the smoke and darkness of the cabin such, that both Mary and prudence urged a retreat. The children from the thickly clustered cabins crowded forth, and one bawled out, "A penny for a crass, ma'am." This means, translated, a ribbon crossed upon the arm, to be worn on St. Patrick's day, which was near at hand. Never, never, had pictures like these met my eyes. I was nearly struck mute. Human nature had never before shown me what she could do when allowed to have her own way. Yet these people can say the Lord's prayer, go to chapel, wear a decent cap and cloak, and are not so poor but that all have cattle, and some money in reserve. The kind Lord Bantry, it is said, gives every rational indulgence, and seldom sends any empty away in distress; but he never enters their cabins to rebuke their filth, or offer them premiums for any improvements they might make, as some have done with good success.

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.