"They always Stand"

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XXII (6) | Start of Chapter

Having an invitation from the wife of a Protestant clergyman, sent by the gardener, I made my way up the hill, in company with a tidy looking Catholic girl to lead me to the door. Supposing myself invited, I made no hesitation in saying to the servant (who was a long time answering the knock), that I was the person Mrs. G. had invited, giving my name. Mrs. G. was engaged. "Will you give my name?" I asked. "She is very busy." What could this trifling mean? Had the gardener deceived me? Is this the house of a missionary? When will the nonsense of a silly world lose its hold of the professed Christian church? I went away disgusted, and was descending the hill when a message was sent, "Will you come back?" I answered, it was of no consequence. "The mistress sent me to ask you." I returned, met the lady in the hall, to whom I said, "Is this Mrs. G., and was a message sent to me by the gardener?" "Walk in," was the answer. "It is of no consequence," I said. "Walk in." I followed into the parlor, and was immediately asked my message to Ireland. It was told, and likewise that I had called on the Catholic priest. Surprised, she suddenly answered, "And what did you call on him for? I will never go near any of them. They are a persecuting people." "I thought they were the subjects we were to strive to benefit, and how can we do them good by keeping aloof?" "When they come to us, we always receive them kindly, but we do not proselyte. Though we are accused of going after them, we do not; neither do we bribe them, as it is said of us, by feeding them and promising high wages. There is a man," pointing to one in the field, "who works faithfully here through the week for eight-pence a day. Do you call that bribing him? He is glad to have it." "I call that oppression," was my answer. "Well, he is glad to do it."

Again she interrogated, "Do you make a practice of going among the Catholics?" "I make a practice of going among all the poor without distinction, but am sorry to say that 'my own' often reject me, and I should more than once have been without a shelter, if the Catholics had not received me, when the Protestants would not."

I gained but little information, though the missionary himself and his friend Mr. C. were present; the latter I had been told was a spiritual Christian, and I hoped from him to learn the true state of things. They all acted as if dinner were cooling, and the sooner this jesuitical spy shall have done the better. The poor woman who had accompanied me stood in the hall during the hour that I stopped, and I begged the mistress to give her a seat or send her away. "No matter, they always stand," was the answer.

I went away without declining dinner, for no invitation was given; and will not be so independent as to say that I was not disappointed. I was grieved; not for the personal treatment, but grieved that so noble, so apostolic a work was in the hands of those whose hospitality, whose humility, whose courteousness to strangers, and whose self-denial, were so far behind the principles they professed to inculcate. I went to the house with no prejudice, hoping to hear a true statement of the good work going on; and the poor waiting Catholic woman, who was not a "souper," was telling me on the way that she knew I should be treated kindly, and when we turned from the door, she said, "I was sorry she kept ye so long, and didn't ask ye to take a comfortable bit."

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.