Visits to the Poor

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter II (8) | Start of Chapter

The next morning, the twin daughters of eleven years accompanied me into a lane to see the poor. Here I found these lovely girls had long been acquainted, for they inquired of a poor old man about the growth of a pig, and kindly patted the well known pets of donkeys, goats, and dogs, calling them all by name, while the mistress went into the garden to pluck a bouquet for the fine girls, who, she assured me, were the smartest in the parish.

I had always heard the Irish were celebrated for giving the pig an eminent berth in their cabins, and was a little disappointed to find that though it was really so, yet there was some nicety of arrangement in all this; for in two cabins I found a pig in a corner snugly cribbed, with a lattice work around him, a bed of clean straw under him, and a pot of food standing near the door of his house, to which he might go out and in at option. And in both these huts, though the floors were nothing but the ground, yet these were well swept; a peat fire was smouldering on clean hearths, and the delf was tastefully arranged upon the rude shelves. An old cobbler sat with his lap-stone, and said he could make one and six and one and ten pence a day, and he took care of the bit of ground at the rear of his cabin for the rent of it. "My wife, praise be to God, is dead, but I can get a comfortable bit for my children." An old blind man of seventy-two, sitting at the door of his cabin, thanked God that he had no right to complain, though he had seen better days; for he had "two kind girls, who, when they had done all in and out of the cabin, got little jobs now and then, which kept the bread in all their mouths." On looking into the cabin, nothing could be cleaner. Here, too, the family pig was snoring snugly in his crib in one corner of the room; and here, in all justice, I must say that these pigs were well disciplined, for when one of them attempted to thrust his nose into a vessel not belonging to him, he was called a dirty pig, and commanded to go to his own kettle, which he did as tamely as a child or a dog would have done.

Another cabin attracted us by the tidy white aprons upon two little girls who were standing at the door, and their nicely attired mother, with clean cap and handkerchief, who welcomed me heartily to Ireland. On my commending her for her cleanliness, she said, "Plase God, poor folks should be a little tidy who have nothing else to set 'em off. Would ye walk into the garden? May be ye'd like a rose or two." We willingly complied, and found an acre of kitchen garden well cultivated, with a few flowers interspersed, which they rented for nine pounds, and sold the avails for the support of the family. She plucked her fairest roses and ripest gooseberries, and bade me God speed, long life, and a safe return to my own country.

I returned from this lane much gratified by the cleanliness, simplicity, and comfort of this humble people, for I had ever associated a mud wall, a thatched roof, and a pig as an inmate, with all that was wretched in the extreme; and I had, so far as this lane could speak, abundant evidence that a very little will make the Irish content, and even happy.

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.