A Tetotaler in Bad Company

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XXI (10) | Start of Chapter

Night was coming on, and a lodging-house was the thing really needed. One was pointed to me, which when reached was nothing but a stable, and used for cattle as well as people. They answered, "Never mind him, we don't take lodgers." Hobbling along, I became an object of great wonder. The country was now thickly sprinkled with cabins, and all the moving beings which they contained turned out, to salute, to gape, or to follow me. My suffering became so acute, that I felt like fainting; and stepping to a door, I asked if lodgings could be found in the vicinity."Not any this side of Killarney," was the answer. "I cannot reach it then, and must stop by the way-side." I had walked more than twenty miles, ten of which had been on round or sharp pebbles for a carpet; sometimes getting upon a cart, and carrying my boots in my hand for a little mitigation. I had eaten nothing but the happy dry crust on the enchanted morning, and the aggregate was a considerable burden to think of supporting four miles longer. The bare-footed woman of whom I inquired, said, "If I had a bed, you should not go any further; but come in, and sit down, and rest ye a bit." This I did not refuse, and followed her into the lodge, sat down upon a bench, and there remained. She kindly offered to do the best she could, which was to put some straw upon the floor, and place me on it. This was a rich prospect. The potatoes were in readiness, and when engaged in eating them, the husband entered, intoxicated, wild, and noisy. Never were a morning and evening at greater extremes than this, in my state of feeling.

I could not get away: the scene was terrific. Three men entered, two to drink with the master, and the third, a tetotaler, to keep the whole sober. Till one o'clock they stayed, sending out a girl for fresh supplies, and no entreaties could get the man of the house to bed. I begged the sober man to find me some retreat, but he could not, and at two they all departed, leaving three females to contend as we could with the infuriate wretch, who had undressed himself and promised to lie down, before the sober man left him. As soon as the men had passed the gate, he seized the tongs, grasped the throat of his wife, and told me if I spoke or attempted to stir, he would throw me into the river, which was deep, and passing under the window of the lodge. The affrighted woman struggled and screamed, and I succeeded by stealth in getting the tongs, and carrying them out, together with the spade. It rained, and I stopped out, till the violence within was so frightful that I feared murder would be the result, and ventured in. A calm followed, and he approached the bed of his three affrighted children, bade them a long farewell, and went out into the rain, after putting on his clothes.

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.