Ursuline Convent and its Elegancies

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XIV (6) | Start of Chapter

Wednesday.—Visited the celebrated Ursuline convent at Black Rock. A note of introduction from Father Mathew, with the young twin sisters of the family who had once hospitably lodged me, for guides, made the walk pleasant; and the reception was cordial at the convent. We found a spacious building on a rising ground, commanding a view of the Lee, and a company of healthy cheerful looking nuns, affable and intelligent, teaching a school of young ladies, and poor children. Pianos were in every room, and in some we found two; everything bore the appearance of comfort and good order, with much taste and style. A little, well selected museum, added much to the interest of the establishment; and a more thorough educa-tion is here obtained, than in any other school. A nun played upon an organ with good taste; and a look into the chapel of the convent, richly fitted up, finished the views of this inside world, which, observed a nun, "as this is all the world to us, why should we not gather as much of its beauties as possible around us?" The extensive walks, shaded with trees, and well laid out garden, must compensate considerably for all without. A dinner of pea-soup and toasted bread was to me a rich treat, but the twin sisters were forbidden by their church to partake, as it was Ash Wednesday, and a rigid fast was imposed. The poor girls fretted and murmured the long walk home, hoping such penances would be "few and far between." In vain I preached cheerful submission as a test of obedience—that no bowing to church or priest—no long fasts or long prayers, would be available, if performed by compulsion, or to merit a reward. They did not understand my far-fetched dogmas, and would not be persuaded, but that a day of suffering like that must meet an ample reward. The dinner-hour brought me to Father Mathew's table, where three kinds of fish, with puddings, jellies, and fruits, were substitutes for pig, beef, and poultry, which Lent forbids. The fastings of both Romans and Protestants are often more ludicrous than grave; for while the poor culprit takes a light breakfast for conscience' sake, he trebles his supper for his stomach's sake, determining that the "sun shall not go down" till he is paid his wages.

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.