We spent a very pleasant day in a pleasant little town in Ohio, with one of the best Irishmen I have met since my arrival in America. Our host (Mr. S—, formerly of Skibbereen) drove us out some miles into the country to visit a Fenian who owns a large farm, and has built him a handsome brick house in the midst of it. We found our farmer friend occupied about a threshing machine to which ten horses were yoked. The evidences of plenty, and peace, and comfort, which I saw here, confirmed me in the opinion which I had previously formed, that Irishmen in America ought to turn themselves to farming whenever practicable. The country folk here are exceedingly neighbourly, and live during the winter in a constant interchange of hospitality. It is customary for whole families, men, women, and children, to live for weeks together as the guests of some neighbour. Their visits are, as a matter of course, returned, and so the winter time is passed in a continuous round of visiting.
I remarked that all our host’s surroundings – his books, his pictures, his blackthorn stick – were Irish. I particularly noticed two portraits in oil which were hung side by side in his drawing-room. They were those of Father Matthew and John O’Mahony; of both these good Irishmen I was proud to avow myself a disciple. Happening to be in Cork last August, I went to see Father Matthew’s tomb. It was nightfall when I reached the cemetery; the stars were twinkling in the clear autumn sky. I stood uncovered by the grave of the good, great man. But I was not alone there, for near me was a poor old woman bent in prayer. Perhaps the only ray of sunshine that ever fell upon her path was due to Father Matthew. I walked softly away, leaving the poor woman still upon her knees. Ah! the human heart is the best monument. I wished to visit another grave, but was obliged to seek for some one to point it out to me. A man, who lived near the cemetery gate, conducted me to the handsome Celtic cross which some of the good people of Cork have placed over the grave of the poor poet, Edward Walsh.
Mr. S—, who is a hardware merchant, brought us to his store, and excited our wonder and admiration by showing us many ingenious inventions, for which Americans “flog creation.” He showed us some beautiful cutlery, too, and assured us that they would soon be able to whip Sheffield in that line. I noticed a great pile of gun-barrels in the rough, and Mr. S— informed me that the farmers themselves were able to rifle them, and finish them off – in fact, able to make their own rifles. This fact set me a-thinking. While I was pondering on this subject, a plain-looking old farmer came into the store, and purchased a bird-cage for five dollars – that is, one pound. Old farmers don’t trouble themselves much about bird-cages in Ireland.
We very much enjoyed our rambles about this place. Though November, the weather was delicious – it was the “Indian summer.” Before our host’s pretty cottage was a grass plot which was really green – I lay down upon it in the sun, and tried to fancy that I was on the bank of a certain little river in a quiet green valley not a thousand miles from Slievenamon. We called to see a very old Irish woman who lived all alone in a little room which was her only apartment. When we entered, she threw up her arms with an exclamation of pleasure, and seizing O’M’s hand, bent down and kissed it. Her brothers were “out” with the O’Mahonys in ’98, and she perfectly remembered that disastrous, but withal, glorious year. And how she did pray that the day of vengeance might come before her old heart should cease to beat; in which case they would surely bring her home to die, and lay her in the old churchyard with her husband, and her kindred.
There was an animated scene at the railway station when we were leaving. The militia (under the command of Major S—, brother to our host) had just been called out for active service. A merrier lot of fellows I never set my eyes upon, though they left many a sad heart behind them – if wet cheeks and trembling lips be any proof of sadness. It was quite painful to look into the faces of the hundreds of young girls who waved their handkerchiefs as the train moved away.
We left the direct route at Buffalo for the purpose of seeing the Falls of Niagara. What shall I say of the Falls? I am somewhat ashamed to own that my first feeling was disappointment. Yet I fancy this must have been caused by a sort of bewilderment. But it is positively a waste of words to try to describe any waterfall let alone Niagara. We hired a coach and did it between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., even to arraying ourselves from head to foot in not a very graceful costume of oilcloth, and descending by a winding stairs to the foot of the falls. Here we were able to walk several yards under the cataract. Giving a last look at the stupendous wonders of Niagara, as the twilight shadows were beginning to envelope them, we hurried to the railway station, got tickets for Albany, which town we arrived at next morning. The scenery along the Hudson, between Albany and New York, is very fine. On reaching the empire city I hastened to the house of a friend where a number of my old neighbours were waiting to meet me. With so many familiar faces around me I could hardly realise that sweet Tipperary was three thousand miles away.
This same evening I visited a friend, some particulars of whose history I shall briefly note down here. I knew Mr. P. in his happy Tipperary home. In that home I have often seen him surrounded by his fine young family of ten children. He held a large farm, was respected and beloved by all who knew him, especially the poor whose idol he was. Owing to a succession of bad harvests, and the loss of his cattle by distemper, he was unable to meet the landlord on the gale day. For the first time during thirty years he owed one year’s rent. And though he had expended many hundreds of pounds in improvements the landlord pounced upon him, and would show no mercy. One dismal winter’s day the sheriff came, the house was surrounded by military and police, and John P., his wife and children were turned out. They were allowed to occupy the house for a few months; the farm being given to another tenant, who paid the landlord several hundred pounds, as a consideration for the house that was built, and the improvements made by John P.— as is the custom in Ireland. John P.’s eldest son, a fine young man, fell into consumption. He was at the point of death, and two of his sisters in fever when the time which they were allowed to remain in the house, had expired. One day, the dying young man was startled by a loud knocking at the hall door. His father opened the door, and there was the Agent mounted on horse back. This functionary asked with an oath, and in a voice of thunder, “why they were not out of the house on the day appointed.”
“My boy is dying,” replied the broken hearted father, “and two of my daughters have fever.”
“I didn’t care the devil had them,” roared the agent.
These brutal words roused the old man to anger. His eyes flashed, and his frame trembled with passion, as he commanded the scoundrel to be gone. The cowardly wretch turned pale with fear, and rode away without another word. The young man, whose last moments were so rudely disturbed, was laid in the old churchyard on the hill a few days after, and John P— and his family “went to America.” How often that phrase is used in Ireland! I found the once hospitable, kind-hearted, and jovial Tipperary man a mere wreck in this crowded city of New York, with only three of his children left to him. His wife and six of his children died since his arrival in America. Every word of this sad story is strictly true. Thousands and thousands of cases of far crueller wrong have occurred and are still occurring in unfortunate Ireland. Yet we are branded as a nation of murderers, because a landlord happens to be shot once in half a dozen years!