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Visit To Thurles Co. Tipperary By Asenath Nicholson. [Part 1]

“Let the passer-by inscribe my epitaph upon this stone, ‘FANATIC’, what then?
It shall only be a memento that one, in a foreign land, lived and pitied Ireland and did what she could to seek out its condition.”

Introducing Mrs Asenath Hatch-Nicholson.

Mrs Asenath [pronounced A-se-nath] Hatch-Nicholson walked through Thurles, Co. Tipperary and indeed the greater Irish countryside, between the years 1844 and 1848, singing hymns, reading the Bible; while distributing Bibles and religious printed tracts, to the few who could read.

She was 52 years old, at the time of her arrival in Ireland, before commencing to walk the highways and byways of nearly every county in Ireland.

She took to the Irish roads wearing Indian rubber boots; a polka coat; underneath which she carried two filled bags of Bibles; same attached to her waist by a stout cord. The Bibles had been supplied by the Hibernian Bible Society, (founded in Dublin, Ireland in 1806; their aim to encourage a wider circulation of the Bible in Ireland). `

She is also recorded as wearing a large bonnet; a black bearskin muff; silver rimmed spectacles and carried an umbrella.
A number of doctors had generously offered to remove a large wart from her face, of which she recorded, with some indignation, that same was possibly the reason that people were inclined to stare at her.

The poet W.B. Yeats would later refer to her, stating, “one of its missionaries who travelled Ireland has written her life, has described meeting in peasant cottages where everybody engaged in religious discussion, has said that she was everywhere opposed and slandered by the powerful and wealthy, because she was on the side of the poor”.

Asenath Hatch Nicholson (1792 – 1855).
Above drawing attributed to Anna Maria Howitt.

In a rare book, [edited with an introduction by Alfred Tresidder Sheppard, (London 1871-1947)], entitled “The Bible in Ireland” (Ireland’s welcome to the stranger or excursions through Ireland in 1844 and 1845 for the purpose of personally investigating the conditions of the poor), written by Asenath Nicholson; we learn of her visit to Thurles, Co. Tipperary and other nearby villages, including Gortnahoe, Urlingford and Holycross.

Born the daughter of Michael and Martha Hatch in Chelsea, latter a village in the White River Valley of eastern Vermont, New England, United States; Asenath Hatch (February 24th, 1792 – May 15, 1855), grew up to became a teacher, a reforming journalist, a social observer and philanthropist, and a committed practising vegan.

Regarding the latter, her family had become interested in a diet recommended by Rev. Sylvester Graham, latter an American Presbyterian Minister and a dietary reformer, known for his emphasis on vegetarianism.
At the age of 39, Asenath married her husband Norman Nicholson (Merchant c.1790–1841); latter a widower (c.1790–1841), with three children, in 1831, before moving with him, to live in New York.
In the 1840s she ran boarding houses at No.118 Williams Street, New York and at No. 21 Beekman Street, Saratoga Springs, New York and at Wall Street, which offered a strict vegetarian menu and she would go on to publish what is regarded as the first Sylvester Graham Recipes, entitled “NATURE’S OWN BOOK: VEGETABLE DIET. FACTS AND EXPERIMENTS OF MANY YEARS PRACTISE.


Asenath Nicholson’s diet advocated that; “good bread, pure water, ripe fruit and vegetables are my meat and drink exclusively.” Her published book did use some recipes containing dairy products, but for the most part advocated against their use.

Her family belonged to the Protestant Congregational Church (Protestant churches in the Calvinist tradition), where she was Christened with the name Asenath‘, latter the biblical name of an Egyptian , [daughter of Poti-pherah, priest of the ancient Egyptian Town of On], whom the Pharaoh gave to Joseph son of Jacob, to be his wife; as a gift for his interpreting of the Pharaoh’s dream, [ See Genesis 41:45, 50 and Genesis 46:20. ], and after naming him ‘Zaphenath-Paneah’ possibly Egyptian meaning, “the revealer of secrets”.

Asenath’s Arrival In Ireland

It was in the cold attics and underground cellars, portrayed in the 2002 American epic historical drama film, “Gangs of New York“, (Five Points, area of Manhattan), that Asenath Nicholson first became acquainted with the extreme poverty of the Irish peasantry, and it was there that she identified that they were indeed a suffering people.

Following her husband’s possible separation and eventual death; in May 1844, Asenath left New York for Ireland, aboard the passenger packet vessel ‘Brooklyn to begin for the next 15 months, her journey around the country, visiting almost every county. During her travels she rebuked people regarding their hygiene habits and their use and abuse of alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee, which she argued was capable of giving its users “delirium tremens“, latter a severe mental or nervous system change.

Her parents in America had instilled in Asenath, from an early age, that idleness was both a sin and disgraceful. As she travelled, she noted that many people lacked employment, and relied almost entirely on their crop of ‘Lumper’ variety potatoes, to avoid starvation. In relation to employment Asenath Nicholson saw employment conditions in Ireland different to the then insensitive Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan*, (latter head of the British civil service), who regarded the Irish people as being lazy.

* In a letter to an Irish peer, the same Sir Charles Trevelyan wrote; “the judgement of God sent the calamity (i.e. the Great Famine), to teach the Irish a lesson”.

Asenath Nicholson identified and denounced many of the existing Protestant Irish landlords, for failing to grant employment to their tenants; then necessary in an effort to stave off hunger and extreme poverty being experienced by the latter. She declared that her own did not have a place for her and were it only that the Catholics took her in, she would have been without shelter.
As a teacher, she visited Protestanted schools to learn that they are not being thought to read maps, since the children are conceived as being from the “lower orders”. Asking the same question, when visiting a Presentation Sisters Roman Catholic school, she learned that, though they are children of the poor, they are taught everything, as the nuns “do not know what God will expect of their assembled pupils”.

Regarding the Potato; she noted that on visiting the village of Roundstone in Co. Galway, a man described the potatoes to her as being; “The greatest curse that ever was sent on Ireland; and I never sit down, see, use, or eat one, but I wish every divil of ’em was out of the island. The blackguard of a Raleigh, (Refers to Sir Walter Raleigh 1552 – 1618), who brought ’em here, entailed a curse upon the labourer that has broke his heart. Because the landholder sees we can live and work hard on ’em, he grinds us down in our wages, and then despises us because we are ignorant and ragged.”
Asenath would record, “This is a pithy truth, one which I had never seen in so vivid a light as now”.

Asenath noted seeing a woman with her daughters carding and knitting, which gave rise to her following comment; “This was an unusual sight for seldom had I seen, in Ireland, a whole family employed among the peasantry. Ages of poverty have taken everything out of their hands, but preparing and eating the potato, and then sit listlessly on a stool, to lie in their straw or saunter upon the street, because no one hires them”.
She became loud in praise of the few resident landlords, who provided employment for their tenants and derided those who had abandoned the poverty stricken.

With her strong interest in the need for employment, there is little doubt that Asenath Hatch Nicholson would have left the Thurles area, before first visiting the work sites established by the Thurles/Rahealty Famine food committee, including the Great Famine Double Ditch; same sadly, recently, deliberately and knowingly, destroyed by Tipperary County Council, aided and abetted by self-serving local councillors, Thurles Municipal District officials and the town’s two resident politicians, namely J. Cahill & M. Lowry.

Asenath became enraged that grain was being diverted from food into alcohol. She was furious that grain was being used for distilling, which could feed the Irish pauper. It has often been charged that the government had allowed food to be exported while the inhabitants, remaining in Ireland, were left to starve. Nicholson looked at this issue of diverted food sources from another angle; charging that grain used for distilling alcohol could have fed the Irish poor. In 1847, with grain prices high, the consumption of legal spirits fell only about 25%, from approximately 8,000,000 gallons to about 6,000,000 gallons, and it took 30,000 tons of grain to distil 6,000,000 gallons of eighty proof spirits, which could have provided more than 300,000,000 servings of grain-based cereal.
Irish Catholic priest and teetotalist reformer, Rev. Fr. Theobald Mathew, latter born in Thomastown, near Golden, County Tipperary, had earlier complained to the aforenamed Sir Charles Trevelyan, and also to judges in Thurles District Court, latter whom issued liquor licences, that “Pestiferous Erections” (make-shift public houses) were being erected at some relief work sites, including in the area of Upperchurch, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. [Same would account for the large number of pubs that once existed between Thurles and Kilcommon, Co. Tipperary].
In at least one case, a publican who was a member of a local relief committee, had recommended men get work, only on condition that they spent part of their wages on alcohol.

It was the same Tipperary born Fr. Theobald Mathew who accompanied Asenath Nicholson to the golden jubilee of Mother Clare Callaghan, at the South Presentation Convent, Cork.
[As our readers will remember, Father Theobald Mathew, was related to Mother Nano Nangle, latter the foundress of the Presentation order.]

As soon as Asenath Nicholson arrived in Dublin on 7th December 1846, she wrote to the readers of the New York Tribune, [founded and published by Horace Greeley (1811-1872)]  and another American Congregationalist minister; abolitionist, emancipator and former lawyer, Rev. Joshua Leavitt (1794-1873), in which she described conditions in Dublin city, and asking for assistance for the Irish poor.
Asenath did not have the means to finance relief efforts herself and despaired that she had to witness a famine, without the necessary means to relieve the hungry.
A letter duly arrived from Horace Greeley with money from his newspaper’s readers, which she regarded as something of a sign indicating divine intervention. Other friends also sent food, clothing and money to be distributed by her or to be sent by her to other trusted friends for similar distribution.

During July 1847 New Yorkers sent Asenath Nicholson five barrels of Indian corn aboard the United States frigate “Macedonia”. Using the funding she had acquired, she walked through areas of Dublin each morning, often distributing slices of bread from a large basket. She went on to open her own soup kitchen in The Liberties, in Dublin; an area she had selected because of its recognised extreme poverty.

Note: As early as 1789, the Republic of Vermont, the town where Asenath was born, had forbade the sale of slaves. Not herself being of the Quaker faith; it was not surprising that she befriended Quakers, who opposed slavery. In the autumn of 1848, like so many others, believing the Great Famine was over, Asenath Nicholson left Dublin for London. She was seen off to the boat, probably by her great friend the abolitionist Quaker and printer Richard Davis Webb one of the founder members of the Hibernian Antislavery Association.
Webb, a friend of the Young Irelander member Thomas Davis and sympathetic to Irish nationalism; was one of the few Irish delegates who attended at the 1840 Anti-Slavery Convention in London, which also included Daniel O’Connell, (The Liberator).

Over the coming days“Visit To Thurles Co. Tipperary By Asenath Nicholson. [Part 2],” which will convey Asenath Nicholson’s own remarks on her visit to the Thurles area.

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