Vale of Avoca

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter III (11) | Start of Chapter

It was Ireland's summer twilight, lingering long, as though loath to draw the curtain closely about a bright isle in a dark world like this. It was early in July, the rich foliage had attained its maturity, and not a seared leaf was sprinkled on bush or tree, to warn that autumn was near. For the first mile the road was smooth and broad, lined with trees; now and then a white gate with white stone pillars, opening to some neat cottage or domain; the glowing streaks of the setting sun had not left the western sky, and glimmered through the trees; while the air, made fragrant by the gentle shower, diffused through body and mind that calmness which seemed to whisper, "Be silent; it is the Vale of Avoca you are entering." We descended a declivity, and the vale opened upon us at "the Meeting of the Waters." The tree under which Moore sat when he wrote the sweet poem had been pointed to me in the morning. We now stood near the union of the two streams, where the poet says,

"There is not in the wide world a valley so sweet,

As that vale in whose bosom the bright waters meet."

The rich variety of wood; the still, clear, limpid water; the hill and vale, in some parts dark and wild, in others light and soft, ever and anon relieving the eye by some new variety; but above all, the pleasant association that this vale, however dark and deep its recesses, harbors not a venomous serpent or reptile—no, not even the buzz of the musquito is heard—made it unlike all others. We rode three miles, scarcely uttering a syllable all the while; a holy repose seemed to rest on this hallowed spot, as when it first bloomed under the hand of its Maker, and imagination was prompted to say, as no serpent has ever coiled here, the contaminating touch of sin has not left its impress.

Never did I leave a spot more reluctantly; it was a night scene which never has faded from my eye, and I hope never will.

"O! the last rays of feeling and life must depart,

Ere the bloom of that valley shall fade from my heart."

In the deep silence, the voice of God and the soft whisper of angels seemed to be there. These voices said kindly, "There is mercy yet for poor erring man." It appeared like the bow of the covenant, telling us to look and remember that though this world has been cursed by sin, yet a new heaven and earth are promised, of which this is a shadowy resemblance.

The borders of this valley are interspersed with gentlemen's seats, and here and there dotted with the whitewashed cottages of the peasants; and the rich cluster of foliage upon the hill sides, upon bush and tree, almost persuade you that the dew of Hermon has fallen upon them. Stranger, when you visit Ireland, visit the Vale of Avoca. If you love God, here you will see him in a picture that must be read; if your stay be limited, waste it not in decyphering a time-defaced stone, telling the bloody deeds of some ancient warrior, or the austerity of some long-lived ascetic, but linger in this spot; stop at the neat little hotel, erected on purpose for the accommodation of the stranger; and morning, noon, and night explore its never-dying beauties of light and shade. Three times did I go through, and when I turned away at last, I felt that

"I could stay there for ever to wander and weep."

The fairy pictures of Ireland had now opened upon me so vividly, that had it not been for the beggars of Tullamore, I must have said, surely this country is quite a monopolist in its pleasant things; but little did my enthusiasm anticipate the check that awaited it.

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.