During 1844 and 1845,
Asenath Nicholson, a Christian widow from USA, travelled around
Ireland, mainly by foot but, when the opportunity arose, by cart or
carriage. She had come to Ireland to find out for herself why so many
of the Irish were emigrating to USA and why they were so
She arrived in Dublin armed with a quantity of
bibles and Christian tracts, which she handed out to people as she
travelled around the country. She was appalled by the conditions
where the living conditions of many people were no better than those
of the animals they tended - in fact, in most cases, the people and
the animals shared the same dwelling. For the majority, potatoes
formed the only food and were eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner
and, only occasionally, was some variety afforded by stirabout
- a mixture of milk and oats.
Asenath was a Protestant; however, she
was able to sympathize to some extent with the Catholics (despite the
fact that many of them were completely unacquainted with the bible)
and, quite often, remarked positively on the high level of education
in their schools. Well aware of the problems caused by alcohol, she
admired the work done by the temperance reformer Father Mathew, with
whom she spent some time in Cork.
Through Asenath's eyes, the reader
gradually becomes familiar with the wild beauty of the country, the
generosity of its people and the injustices of a system where
absentee English landowners had little or no thought for their tenant
farmers who could be dismissed without reason and without warning.
The fact that Ireland's Welcome to the Stranger is a
first-hand account of conditions in the 1840s (and not an account
written from hearsay many years later) makes the book extremely
valuable and interesting. We may not agree with all of Asenath's
views, but her honesty and her observant descriptions of everything
she experienced make this a book a must-read for anyone
interested in Irish history.