[A simple meal]

Artist(s) : S. Williams (Engraver)

A family in a thatched cabin eating potatoes, watched by two elegantly dressed gentlemen. The parents are seated, two of the children are crouched on the floor while another stands. The man's clothes are in tatters, as are those of the small boy at his feet. The woman wears a chequered headscarf. The fabric of the roof is seen in some detail. The table consists of a board or slab of rock resting on barrels. The meal is composed exclusively of potatoes. An extract of the seated man's words are given below the image.

Image Details

Genre Genre painting
Colour Monochrome
Published / created 1837

Bibliographical Details

Travel Account The Irish Tourist (1837)
Print or manuscript Print
Location of image in copy frontispiece
Source copy James Hardiman Library, National University of Ireland, Galway Special Collections SCR: 914.1504 TAY
Rights Courtesy of the James Hardiman Library, National University of Ireland, Galway

Related text from travel account

I paid however some attention to the class of beggars themselves, and investigated many cases of most singular and distressing hardship. An Englishman is so accus- [p. 131] tomed to conclude beforehand that mendicants are idle, or impostors, that it requires an effort to enquire into the actual state of things, when he sees himself surrounded by hosts of miserable-looking beings all of whose cases wear one general aspect; he does not at first reflect that a great many of these poor creatures are under the pressure of perhaps merely temporary distress, driven to this as the sole resource they have. Let a poor family be ever so respectable, ever so decent in their habits, no one can say, in the state in which Ireland is, that that family may not in a few months be without food or shelter; and then what can they do but beg? In these cases there is generally much of pride and shame; they do not begin till they have left their native place far behind; and they gladly leave off the occupation as soon as they can; but for a time there seems no other resource. One labouring man said to me, “Last summer I was in great distress myself, sir; I begged then, and, if it be the will of God, I may expect next summer to do the same; yet now when a beggar comes to me and asks for God's sake, I cannot hold back part of what I have. You see, sir,” pointing to the potatoes on his board, for he and his family were at dinner, “I am eating dry potatoes; the beggar can have better food than that, he sometimes gets broth and meat, and more potatoes than he wants, so that he can change them away for soup, or tobacco, or clothes, but yet I don t think one in an hundred would beg, if they were not forced to it. A neighbour of mine,” he added, “went to find work or beg in Leinster last summer; he got a pair of shoes just afore he went, and he came back without a penny, and forced to sell the shoes too; for you see, yer Honour, he was not fit to beg, poor fellow! he was too bashful, and there's many bear the pains of hunger long, afore they try. The childer of that very man used to come and stand at my [p. 132] door at meal times, not asking for something to eat, but looking with the hungry eye. Och ! them that have felt the craving in themselves never forget it. They know the raal look in a thousand: those same childer, poor craturs! lived for two days on one poor meal of praties, ere they spoke; but then the mother and all five turned out, and went one day to beg, while the father went another, poor craturs!”
“And are they home again now?” asked I.
“They are, yer Honour; Garrett has got work, and they have been pretty dacent;—but who knows if that will last?”
My informant was a fine athletic man, with a most intelligent, honest countenance; and I had afterwards ample opportunity of hearing his statements confirmed. Let me here, once for all, say that the further I went in Ireland, the more was I struck with the fine and noble traits of character evinced in the midst of their real misery, and the more astonished to find that physical wretchedness had not more completely extinguished the man and degraded them into the animal. The self-denying benevolence, the tender and deep sympathy for others, and the unbounded gratitude for trifling instances of kindnes,s fairly won my heart. The grand defect, and a serious one it is, in the national character, is want of sincerity and good faith; but, (for this point I particularly enquired into,) it does appear to me that this fault is one chiefly, if not solely,, manifested towards those whom they have been taught to regard as a race wanting in just and proper feeling towards themselves, and whom they think they may lawfully endeavour to outwit in return. I say not who is the most to blame for this state of things; but I know that it is rare to talk with a poor Irishman who does not show that he thinks you have a purpose of your own to [p. 133] serve with him, and who is not therefore suspicious and on his guard. [p. 130-3]
A simple meal