Walk to Roscrea

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VIII (11) | Start of Chapter

After this night's encounter I made myself ready to depart, having staid a day longer than I intended; and I left at an early hour, to walk six miles to Roscrea. My kind friends sent a boy with an ass and car to carry me, which overtook me in sight of the town. I was fatigued; a hill was before me, and a mile to the place. I got upon the car; the obstinate ass absolutely refused to receive and carry the burden. In spite of the beating of the boy, and the kind coaxing of myself, he was as obstinate as an ass still; and I left the wayward brute and boy to manage as they liked, and walked into the romantic town of Roscrea, among ruins of castles, abbeys, &c., some built by the Danes, some in the year 1200, and all going to decay. The people here appeared better dressed; the women wearing bonnets and shoes more generally, and their gowns not pinned up.

Protestants, Catholics, and Methodists, have their churches here, and I was told that tolerable good feeling exists among them all. Being detained by rain in the house where I lodged, I had opportunity to see a little more of domestic life in a Protestant whiskey-house. The old lady had some higher notions of cleanliness than all her Irish neighbors, saying she had caught them by travelling in England. She was lame, and could not walk; but for the poor servant's sake, I could have wished the lameness were in her tongue. This servant she employed for the paltry sum of four shillings a quarter, leaving her to make out the remainder by the low practice of begging from lodgers and guests. Whether this poor girl was at work or at play, doing right or doing wrong, all was the same; she always went out when she should stay in, and stayed in when she should be out. She was young, unused to service, and "tremblingly alive" to please her mistress, but never succeeded. This woman was Solomon's "continual dropping in a very rainy day." It was a cold wet day; I could not stay in a fireless room, and was obliged to see all that passed. When any one called for a dram, lame as she was, with a soft voice and happy smile, she would hobble to the whiskey room, and fill a glass.

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.