St. John’s Arts and Heritage Centre in Listowel Town Square
Irish “Servant Girls in the U.S. in the nineteenth century
From The Pilot 17 January 1874
……I have never sympathized with the
popular murmurs against the Irish. What would our nation have done without
them? They have brought to us, strong hands and willing minds; they have built
our roads, and bridges, and laid our railroads, and been everywhere at hand in
our families to help.
Of course, they are but human,
subject to all the defects of imperfect humanity; but, notwithstanding that, I
do not hesitate to say they have been a blessing to this country. I have always
maintained that the very best, the safest, the most respectable, and (taking
all things into account) the most really desirable situation for a
working-woman was that of a family domestic. Through foolish pride and
prejudice, the American woman has refused this position, and it has therefore
fallen to the lot of the stranger.
Thousands of young Irish girls have
landed on our shores, utter strangers far from the advice and protection of
fathers and mothers, with no reliance but their priests and their church, and
into their hands have been committed the life and health of our young children,
the ministration of our substance, the care of luxurious homes, and the
maintenance of that order, neatness and economy on which depends the enjoyment
of domestic life. Taking them as a class, considering the inexperienced
age at which they come, and that often they are as young as the daughters of
the family they serve, it seems to me that any sensible person would rather
wonder to see how well they do their duties, than rail at their shortcomings.
Let any father and mother imagine
their own daughter, at sixteen or eighteen, landed in Ireland to seek
self-support, and ask if young American females, similarly tried, would do any
better? Would they do even as well? Certainly so far as I have observed, the
American woman lacks that physical stamina and strength which belong to those
who come over to us from the old country. There are many of the
girls who come, who have not only fine, healthy physical systems, but a good training
in neatness, industry and economy.
In my own family and those of my
friends, I have observed many young women who brought to this country the best
domestic training. There have been those who could write a handsome letter, who
could cut and fit garments, and even do the finest needlework. I can call to
mind now families which have been from the very beginning carried on by the
help of such girls, and who have valued them as they deserved, as real and true
friends. I know an eminent clergyman of Boston who has often been heard to say,
that the claims to saint ship of some of the Irish nurses who have been helpers
in his family, went beyond that of many saints in the calendar. In my own
family, I have had every reason to speak well of the Irish. Better domestic
service could not be than they have rendered me; and even after leaving they
have remained true and constant friends.
In my late tour through the West I
was more than once sought out by those who, ten or fifteen years ago, were
domestics in my house, now thriving mothers of families, and with children
growing up in our schools to take rank as educated American citizens. If I
mistake not, from the sons of some of these girls who began their career in
domestic service, will come some of the brightest and best of our future
citizens. One thing in regard to the Irish servant girls should not be omitted.
Considering their youth, their inexperience, their coming strangers into the
country, their separation from parental oversight—their uniform purity and
propriety of conduct is certainly remarkable. Seldom in the course of my
observations have I known an Irish girl to go astray, or conduct herself
immodestly; and it is a respect in which the watch and ear of their Church is
most specially marked. As to honesty, in estimating that trait of Irish
servants, we must not expect superhuman virtue.
We must not say that they are
dishonest because they do not rise to a height of excellence above the average
of our best educated and most respectable public men. With our newspapers full
of trials for defalcations and frauds, in every department of public life, on
the part of mature men, who have every advantage of training and position, let
us not be too exacting of immature young persons, who are suddenly brought from
poverty into what seems to them a most profuse and superfluous abundance….
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Presentation Convent Listowel in January 2017
Every now and again I go by the convent and photograph its decline. It ‘s a very sorry sight now. It was reroofed last year so the rain is kept out but otherwise it is falling into disrepair.
Convent chapel with convent to the right.
Ivy is encroaching from the side and will soon cover the window.
The security firm has attached a sign to the locked side gate.
I poked my camera through the gate to get this shot.
This was the beautiful front entrance used only by visitors.
The front lawn, once meticulous.
Toirbheart was once the junior school.
This gate which was rarely used is rusting away.
There used to be a calvary grotto here. it is in the grounds of the chapel on your right hand side as you leave the church.
Some of the windows are broken and some are boarded up.
From the Kerryman archive
Photo; Johnny Joy on Facebook
New Year Traditions
People have shown great interest in the tradition of first footer that I wrote about in my first New Year post.
Apparently in some Cork housing estates people all came outdoors at the stroke of midnight and rang bells or blew whistles and hooters. They greeted their neighbours and wished everybody a happy new year.
A letter from a blog follower detailed another lovely new year tradition of her own;
“Very interested in the January 1st tradition. We have a tradition over here too. Before the stroke of midnight, my husband and I vacate the house carrying a bottle of holy water. As the click strikes midnight, we enter the house, blessing each room with the holy water. It gives us a cozy protected feeling.
Happy New Year Mary!