Wicklow Gold Mines

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter III (12) | Start of Chapter

The next day a ride to Killahester, upon the mountains, five miles distant, took us to the house of my hostess's son. He accompanied us to the Gold Mines, in a deep ravine; these were discovered more than forty years ago, and government then attempted to work them, but soon abandoned the project. Now any man may search here for gold, where and how he pleases, and we found four men patiently at work at their own risk. They informed us that they often dug for days in succession, and got not a particle of gold; then they find a little, sufficient to encourage them, and they patiently labor on. Inquiring of a lad of twenty, "Suppose you work a month and find none, what would you then do!" he replied, "O we don't mind that; the good may come at last." Happy for the poor Irish, that their organ of hope is so largely developed, otherwise they would sink under their accumulated burdens. They showed us a specimen of the gold. It was about a guinea's worth, and was quite pure. The lad who produced it said, "We be never disheartened." Well they might take courage, for digging in a rock for gold, with a few grains now and then as a reward, is as good an equivalent as working for sixpence or eightpence a day, and buying their own potatoes. The inhabitants of this mountain are many of them poor, and live in dark mud cabins, with a scanty supply of food. My friend, at whose house I stopped, observed that the laborers who live under the farmers are in a better condition than those who live under the landowners. The latter allow but tenpence a day, out of which the laborer must find his own food, while a great farmer often gives fifteen pence and part of the food. My friend was one of these great farmers; he had two hundred acres of land, and paid his laborers in that proportion.

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.