Wretched condition of a Sick Woman

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XII (5) | Start of Chapter

A ramble in the afternoon gave me a beautiful prospect of the sea and town. Meeting a peasant, and inquiring the way, "And ye're a stranger, and have ye seen the light-houses a mile and a half from this? They will be well worth a walk to them," he said. I determined to go, but turning into a cabin, a sight was there presented which diverted me from everything beside. On a pile of straw, placed upon a bedstead in the corner, lay an emaciated woman without a sheet or bedspread of any kind, but an old cloak which but partly covered her; and shivering with cold, sitting in the ashes, were three small children; and in another corner, a pile of straw upon the floor, where they slept. The woman made incoherent answers at first, but soon was collected, and apologized for her seeming rudeness, by saying she was ashamed she had answered a lady so; and I soon saw she was of no mean extract. She informed me her husband had been three months in the hospital; that her bed and bed-clothes had been pawned for food; that she could now relish nothing but rice and bread, and these she could not procure. "The doctor used to be kind," said the mother. Taking the eldest daughter, I went in pursuit of him: the doctor had forgotten them, and could say no more than that she must go to the infirmary, or lie as she was. I went to my lodgings; the woman had nothing to spare; directed me to a hospitable Catholic lady, who never refused. She was ill; could not be seen. I went away disheartened, and was passing among the crowd, when the servant called after me, "Mrs. D. says she will see you." Hearing that I was an American, she hoped to hear from friends there, and when I returned was received with much affability; and telling the sad tale of the dying woman, she pitied, gave a few pence, enjoining me not to mention the donor, adding, "You know if we mention our alms-giving, it will do the giver no good at last." A little covering was purchased at a pawnbroker's, some bread and rice added, and carried to the wretched cabin. Stepping in a few doors from this abode, and begging a female to look in, and see that the poor woman should not die so neglected, "We are all starved, and perishing with want, lady," was the reply, "and cannot mind our neighbors." I went to my lodgings, and passed the evening, reading to attentive auditors to a late hour.

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.