Sunday, February 25, 2018

'Ireland is not a leaving place': For ancestors who stayed

In early evening, along the Liffey where the leaving ships once docked.
At night,
on the edge of sleep,

I can see the shore of Dublin Bay.
Its rocky sweep and its granite pier.

Is this, I say
how they must have seen it,
backing out on the mailboat at twilight,

shadows falling
on everything they had to leave?
And would love forever?
And then

I imagine myself
at the landward rail of that boat
searching for the last sight of a hand.

I see myself
on the underworld side of that water,
the darkness coming in fast, saying
all the names I know for a lost land:

Ireland. Absence. Daughter.

from 'The Lost Land' by Eavan Boland

For many who write the history of their Irish ancestors, the story is one of Ireland as a leaving place. As in Eavan Boland’s ‘The Lost Land’, and a number of other poems authored by her, Ireland is that place of one last look for a waving hand upon the pier, one last glimpse of a land fading from view, one last goodbye to a son or a daughter or an entire family who moved away from Ireland’s shores.

However, for most members on both sides of my family tree, the story was quite a different one. No matter what the pull, no matter how seductive the promises made by the lands ‘over there’, Ireland was not a place to leave behind. It was a place to stay and make a life. It is certain that in staying some suffered hardship and ruin, still others died on famine roads and in workhouses, but they also lived. By God, they lived.

Why did they stay?
What is it that kept them in Ireland?
Why did they not cut and run like those who saw a better life waiting for them on foreign shores?

It is not enough to say they were bound to Ireland because of family connections, or they could not travel because money was an issue, given that assisted passage was in place early on after the inception of Irish Poor Law, or even that they were ensnared by the beauty of the place.  Of course, we cannot point to a single reason for all of those who made the choice to stay, but for many there was something more than the obvious concerns. Ireland had forever entangled them in the history of the land, and she would not release her grip.

In the west of Ireland, in the counties of Mayo and Galway and Roscommon, in the annals of history my father's family name goes back to the 8th century. Down through history many of those bearing the Geraghty surname left Ireland behind, but many also stayed.

Although the spirit of the place is forever written on their bones, for my father, my mother and my brother, Ireland was a leaving place. In fact, in my dad's family of origin, he along with all of his siblings emigrated away from Ireland; all sought a better life on foreign shores. His elder brother Patrick left for Canada and then left Canada for the United States, his brothers Enda and Declan chose England, as did his sisters Mary and Kathleen, and his brother John found a better life in Australia. Was it only the siren song of fortune's call that drew them away from Ireland's shores, or something more? In moving toward a better life were not they also moving away from a life best forgotten?

Perhaps the draw to leave came because over time the tales from overseas grew better, the siren's song hummed louder and sweeter, drowning out the thump of the Bodhrán drum and the trill of the tin whistle. For some the chasm between life as it was in Ireland and the promise of life as it could be in another land grew ever wider, and only emigration could fill it.


In the generation before that of my father and his siblings, the generation of my paternal grandfather John Geraghty, John and all of his siblings, save one, stayed in Ireland. John's eldest brother Thomas worked for Guinness Brewery. His brother Michael became a priest and then a Canon in the Roman Catholic Church, and his brother Patrick became a professor at University College Cork. John's brother George worked for Bord na Móna, the company that harvests peat, a fuel once widely used for home heating, and his brother Austin worked for the ESB, the Electricity Supply Board. Neither of John's sisters Margaret and Catherine ever married, living out their lives together in Dublin City. Only their sister Maria Helen emigrated, leaving Ireland on her own in the autumn of 1909 to join her cousin Norah, Mrs. P.J. Moran, in Cleveland, Ohio, United States.

John's father, my great-grandfather Patrick Geraghty, had migrated within the country, moving with his wife and baby son Thomas from Leckanvy, Murrisk, County Mayo, to Dublin City, County Dublin. In Dublin City, Patrick found work, and over the following ten years Margaret birthed the other eight of their nine children. They lived there and they died there.

In Murrisk, County Mayo, looking northeast away from Clew Bay.
Most of my mother's family chose to remain in Ireland. Going back generations, there does not appear to ever have been enough of a trauma to push them out. They survived all of the famine periods which plagued Ireland — Bliain an Áir: the famine of 1740-41, An Gorta Mór: the famine of 1845-52, and An Gorta Beag: the famine of 1879 — as well as years of food shortages into the early 20th century.

Around the turn of the century, my maternal great-grandfather Thomas Fitzpatrick left Ireland for a time, moving to Liverpool with his wife Mary, daughter Mary Angela and son Joseph. Although their time away in Liverpool lasted for a period of about four years, and saw the births of two sons and the sudden death of Joseph, it was not permanent.

What was it that drove Thomas and Mary back to Dublin, to begin all over again? In Liverpool, there had been an ever present lack of work for Thomas, they had moved numerous times, always to less than ideal accommodations, and they were isolated from family in Ireland. On top of all of the hardships they faced, could it be that they also simply missed home?

My mother once told me that she spent their first two years away from Ireland crying, longing to return home. She missed Ireland and her family. She missed picnics at Sandymount and Howth, the fresh sea air, and the swans on the River Dodder, and she missed her dad so very much. An image of the last time she saw him was forever fixed in her heart and mind. From the deck of the Carinthia she had spotted him in the large crowd below on the pier at Liverpool. He had doffed his fedora, and his shock of white hair stood out in the sea of grey overcoats. He seemed so very small and fragile. She would never see him again.

It is not, I submit, only the purview of the romantics to believe there is an almost magnetizing energy in Irish blood that binds some to the land. Although I was born in Canada, I am the daughter of my Irish mother and father. I have no Canadian ancestors. It is Irish blood that flows in my veins, and it is that blood connection which has created in me a deep and abiding love for Ireland, and a longing that sends me back to Ireland time and again, in every season of the year. Although I am a family historian, I am also an historian by profession, and it is Irish history that drives my work. Hovering over all of it are the ever present questions, the search for understanding, the need to ask: Why?

In the mid-morning light, Clew Bay at low tide, Murrisk, County Mayo.
(This post originally appeared in November of 2014)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

'If ever two were one, then surely we': Love & Marriage on my Family Tree

To my dear and loving husband

If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me ye women if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay;
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let's so persever*,
That when we live no more we may live ever.

                         — Anne Bradstreet, 1612-1672.

While wishing each and every one of you a Happy Valentine's Day, I must beg your forbearance for this repeat of my Valentine post. Since this is a day of love, I believe nothing is more fitting than this list of lovely unions, so again I offer for your perusal, 'Love & Marriage on my Family Tree.

Inspired by the words of Anne Bradstreet's beautiful 17th century poem, which I dedicate to my own belovéd husband Matthew, and in honour of this St. Valentine's Day, here is a celebration of marital unions on both sides of my family tree. It is my hope that all were brought together by love, although I may be idealizing some of these unions.

It is entirely possible the couples in question may have gotten together over such unromantic notions as strengthening the power and social standing of a particular family. Some matches may have been based on the fact that the woman was from a family known for birthing male children. Attachments might have been made quite simply because the families of the betrothed lived in close proximity to one another.


Since this is Valentine's Day, I prefer to think it was all for love.



John and his girl Ally, my maternal fifth great-grandparents got together sometime around 1760, although the definitive proof of a marriage record continues to elude me.

Married or not, on 24 December 1761 they christened their first born child, a son, whom they named William. Although William died young, over the years John and Ally would welcome at least six more children: three daughters, Elizabeth (born 1763), Mary (born 1766), Anne (born 1771), and three sons William (born 1774; my 4th great-grandfather), Peter (born 1776) and Christopher (born 1778).



On 17 February 1773, just three days after the Feast of St. Valentine, James and Catherine were married by Reverend Thomas King in Donabate, County Dublin, Ireland. James and Catherine welcomed at least two children, including their daughter, my 4th great-grandmother Mary, who was born in the winter of 1775.



William, my maternal 4th great-grandfather, son of John Cavenaugh and Ally Howard, promised to be truthful and faithful to his Mary, daughter of James Brien and Catherine Harford, on a snowy December day. I remember it well, for the two became one on 30 December 1798 in Donabate, County Dublin, Ireland.

According to the memoir of their grandson, Andrew J. Kettle, William and Mary were quite an extraordinary couple. The memoir asserts that both were involved in the 1798 Rebellion, with Mary allegedly secretly transporting pikes into North County Dublin, and providing shelter for insurgents after the rising was quashed. Andrew J. also writes that 'Billy' was briefly imprisoned since he was a member of the United Irishmen, and saved from the hangman's noose only because of the wealth and standing of his family. It was perhaps in celebration of their survival that William and Mary wed on the penultimate day of December in the year of the Rebellion.

Together William and Mary shared at least three children, including their second born child Alice, my third great-grandmother, who was christened 'Ally' on 5 March 1800, a namesake for her paternal grandmother, Allice Howard.



Ally, daughter of William and Mary, enjoyed 25 years together with her beloved husband Thomas.  Ally and Thomas welcomed many children — at least six — including my great-great grandmother Maria 'Mary' Kettle and her brother Andrew Joseph Kettle.

Sadly, Ally died 24 September 1855.  Upon his death 22 September 1871, Thomas was interred with his 'beloved' Alice in St. Colmcille's Churchyard, Swords.


In the case of the Cavenaughs, it is interesting to note the extent to which their surname 'morphed' on documents over three generations of the family. This speaks to the dominance of oral culture over written. In other words, the person noting family passages in parish registers, whether sacristan or priest, wrote what he heard. Uniformity of surnames did not become the order of the day until the 19th century. By the time her son Andrew J. Kettle was writing his memoirs in the early 20th century, he wrote that O'Kavanagh was his mother Alice's surname.




On the bright morning of 14 September 1857 Maria, called Mary, daughter of Thomas Kettle and Ally O'Kavanagh, took the plunge with her beau Joseph.

Together they had nine children, including my great-grandfather Thomas Fitzpatrick. They had fourteen years together, when sadly, Mary died 23 April 1871.  Her youngest child Teresa was only ten months old at the time. Mary is interred with her mother and father in St. Colmcille's Churchyard, Swords, County Dublin.



Like his parents before him Thomas took his bride in a September wedding. On 20 September 1893, Thomas and Mary were united in marriage by Rev. Father David P. Mulcahy at St. Columba Church in Swords, County Dublin. Tom and Mary faced much hardship during their married life, but together they endured.

Together they left Ireland for Liverpool England, only to return to Ireland some seven years later. Their marriage brought them six children, including my grandmother Maria 'Mary' Angela Fitzpatrick.



FRANCIS BALL pledges his troth to JANE EARLY

Up to this point in my 'roll call of love', I have laid out the family line which resulted in the birth of my grandmother Maria 'Mary' Angela Fitzpatrick. Although I won't include his complete line here, I do want to add the parents of Mary's husband, my grandfather Patrick Joseph Ball.

Francis Ball and Jane Early were joined in marriage at St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral on the 24th day of August 1884. It was an illustrious beginning to a marriage plagued by loss, but I like to imagine it was a happy union which produced the gentle soul who was my grandfather Patrick, the first born son of Francis and Jane's five children.



Although it is alleged that case maker Patrick Joseph Ball may not have been her family's first choice as a perfect match for Maria 'Mary' Angela Fitzpatrick, these two are said to have adored one another. They wed on 1 June 1921, and shared just over fifteen years of marriage.

Together they had eight children, with seven living to adulthood, including my mother Mary. Their baby son Thomas died in 1928, when he was just over 10 months old. Sadly, Mary Fitzpatrick Ball followed him to the grave 18 December 1936, at the age of forty-two; her youngest child John was less than a year old at the time.



The union of these two has always had me somewhat flummoxed. Minimal details of their relationship, as outlined by one of my father's sisters, make it appear as though Anne and John mixed as well as fire and water. I do not know how they met, but have surmised the introduction may have been made by Anne's father, Patrick Magee, perhaps in the hope of reigning in the revolutionary inclinations of his eldest daughter who was a member of Cumann na mBan during the War of Independence. As the manager of the Jameson Distillery, Patrick Magee knew John Geraghty, the son of wealthy 'car' (coaches, carriages, etc.) proprietor Patrick Geraghty who owned the car company favoured by Mr. Jameson. Apparently John and Patrick often interacted, since John was the driver who 'squired' Mr. Jameson to the Smithfield distillery.

No matter how the relationship began, with Anne almost 28 years old, she was on the cusp of the age when 'the bloom is gone off the rose', as they say, and so it would have been important to get her married.  John was significantly older than Anne, eleven years her senior, and just a couple of months shy of his 39th birthday when they wed on 15 February 1928. The marriage produced seven children, including their second born son, my father Michael. The couple had been married for just over twenty-four years when Anne suddenly died. Some of the Geraghty children remarked it was only after their mother's death that they realized their father truly loved her, and was completely lost without her.



My mother and father first laid eyes on one another when she was eighteen and he was twenty.  Mom recalled his beautiful blond hair, the perfect crease of his trousers, and the brilliant polish of his black leather shoes. Dad noted her gorgeous brunette hair falling in waves to her shoulders, and her beautiful eyes, one of them half blue and half hazel. His aunt Mollie wanted him to court one of my mother's sisters, but he only had eyes for Mary Ball.  It was a long courtship, five years, but finally they were married at St. Patrick's Church, Ringsend, Dublin on 2 August 1954, and had been married for just over 45 years when my dad died in March of 2000.

Michael Geraghty and Mary Ball, my dad and mom,
life long sweethearts on their wedding day,
2 August 1954.
May you have much love in your life today and always.

Note: * In Anne Bradstreet's poem, the word 'persevere' appears here exactly as the poet spelled it.

This post originally appeared in 2016.
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