Staring! Staring!

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XVIII (15) | Start of Chapter

Saturday.—Hesitated how to pass the day; my dread of going out upon the street was greater in Killarney than in any other town; though it is a place where strangers constantly resort, it would seem that I was a more interesting spectacle than any whatever. My coat was made of good cloth and in the newest fashion, my bonnet was the same, but my muff was black and large, and thinking that the coat might be a little novel to the peasantry, and the muff a fright, I resolved that morning to avoid all occasion of offence. The post-office was the place of destination, and putting on a cloak which the peasantry wear both in winter and summer, and leaving the muff behind, I went out quite early, hoping to escape unmolested. Not so; my fate was fixed. Men, boys, women, and girls, were on the spot, who all regulated their movements in unison with mine. If I hastened my pace, they did the same; if I walked slowly, they did so too; and if I stopped, this was still more favorable for the gaping. It was market-day, and a fresh recruit was on the field; some dropped their sacks and hurried on, lest I might be too quick for them; others, with baskets and buckets on their heads, managed so adroitly as to draw up to the spot in good time, near where they supposed I was going. Reaching the post-office, I paused and seriously asked a countryman, who was leisurely surveying me from head to foot, "How do you like my looks? Don't you think me a queer looking woman?"

"By dad, ye're a dacent lookin' body," said he.

I dropped in my letter, and with a hurried step walked away, when a huckster woman bawled out, "She's a beautiful wawlker, God bless her."

What could I do, what should I do, with this indescribable annoyance of being followed through the town, over hedges, and even into burying-grounds, to be gaped at? The misery was enhanced by knowing that this proceeded from no ill motive whatever, for they would have protected me at the risk of their own safety, and I hated myself that my sensibilities were such, that I could not be more patient under the unavoidable ordeal.

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.