Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Presentation Convent; January 2017 and servant girls in the U.S in 1847

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

Dear Sir,

……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


Dromclough 1929

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!
Marie Shaw"

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