Thoughts of Home

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter X (2) | Start of Chapter

And five miles long and dreary I walked, and met not a living moving being, nor could I find a stone or stick where I could sit down, and stand still or walk on I must. I wished to reach Loughrea if possible, and hurried on till my strength gave way; a welcome stone by the side of a wall met my eye; I sat down, leaning my back against the wall, and looked across the Atlantic. I there saw cheerful fires lighted; I saw friends gathered around them; I heard them say, "I wish I could see what Mrs. N. is doing to-night. By this time she believes we told her the truth, when we advised her to stay at home, and keep out of difficulties which she must unavoidably meet in a land of ignorant, reckless strangers. Pity she could not find Irish enough in New York to keep her busy, without going to that land of darkness. Well! she always would have her own way, and she must abide the consequence." I saw too my own once happy parlor lighted, and the books gathered for the evening: and did I wish to draw around the table, and participate in the enjoyment? I did not. No, I did not. Should I sleep the sleep of death, with my head pillowed against this wall, no matter. Let the passer-by inscribe my epitaph upon this stone, fanatic, what then? It shall only be a memento that one in a foreign land loved and pitied Ireland, and did what she could to seek out its condition.

It was now dark. A heavy fog and mist were gathering fast, and I could scarcely discern the earth from the sky. A man passed. "Will you tell me, sir, how far it is to Loughrea?" "Two miles and a half." "Then I must stop by this wall for the night. I cannot go further." "Not a word of lyin'," was my only consolation from the man, and he passed on. I arose, and made an effort to walk. Another man passed. The same interrogation was now answered by, "A mile and a quarter." This was gaining rapidly without walking a yard, and passing on a little, I made the same inquiry, and was answered, "A short mile, ma'am." I was confused, and knew not whom to believe; but was so willing to be deceived, that by limping and halting, wading, and inquiring of all I met, I at last reached the twinkling lights of the suburbs of the town.

The kind voice of the woman where I lodged on the journey down, was music to my ear, and Pat was called to participate in the joy. "And what shall we do for ye, the cratur!" A long box was in the room. I flung myself upon it, and for an hour, amidst the repeated questions, "What shall we do, and what can ye ate? Ye'r destroyed, and the heart's gone out o' ye," I kept my position, really fearing it was over with me, and my walking was ended. I had walked eighteen Irish miles, in clay, and over tedious mountains, since ten o'clock. My situation was not the most flattering. I was among a people, though kind, who could not appreciate the object of my visit to Ireland. They were poor and needed every penny which belonged to them. I was a stranger, and had been accustomed to better accommodations than they could afford, had been disappointed in getting my money, and could not reward them for extra attentions. The lumbago, which for many months had made me a cripple in New York, now threatened a visit, and the sum total was not the most pleasant. Did I despond? No! my philosophy and my religion (if I had any) came to my aid; and the question, Of what use is your religion, if it will not sustain you in a time of need? brought me to my feet. In the passing of this hour on the box, I was not alone. The intelligence had reached many a cabin, that the "plain-discoorsed and the beautiful reader" had returned, and they hastened to bid her welcome. Seeing me in this dilemma, the rejoicing was turned to mourning, and the "cup of tay, the cup of tay, was all that could refresh her, the cratur." I took a cup of cocoa, bathed my feet, and reluctantly said good night, being too much fatigued to read to them. But I gave them my hand, and from my heart did I pray that God would emancipate poor neglected Connaught.

My bed-room and appurtenances were not in the most tempting fix. A dirty chaff bed, with a pile of potatoes at the head of it, and the servant across the foot said, "Here you are." I passively committed myself to the care of Him whose aid I certainly needed, and whose watchfulness, I felt, had ever been my only support.

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.