Grandpop Was An Immigrant – Guest Post By Phyllis Easterbrook

Phyllis Easterbrook is a writer who lives in Missouri. Her grandfather was born near Ballymena, County Antrim, and in today’s post, she shares some beautiful memories of her Grandpop, her family’s American journey, and lovely insights into life in the row homes of Philadelphia many years ago.

And so over to Phyllis for the next installment in our Immigrant Tales – Stories of Our Ancestors…….

grandpop

Grandpop smoking his pipe, with Suzy, his beloved dog

 The Early Years:

 

Grandpop was born in Ireland, in a small town called Ahoghill, which sits in The Borough of Ballymena, in Northern Ireland. He accompanied his parents to the United States as an infant, thereby making me a second-generation American on my father’s side!

In 1889, John and Elizabeth (my great-grandparents) left Northern Ireland aboard the ship Furnessia, which docked in the port at New York City, after a two to three week voyage. This was three years before Ellis Island was transformed into the major immigration station. They, no doubt, were processed at Castle Garden Depot in lower Manhattan.

John and Elizabeth arrived with five children, ages ranging from ten years old down to 9 months old. Grandpop was the 9 month old.

Before my family’s arrival in America, Ireland was a country dealing with the aftermath of The Great Famine.  More than a million people died of starvation and just as many immigrated to other countries. The British government subsidized immigration to the US and Canada. The subsidy was a good thing for my ancestors, because at the United States immigration stations, some folks were sent away and back to their country of origin, if they could not prove they had adequate funds to support themselves and their families.

Grandpop2

Grammy and Grandpop in Philadelphia – the missing digits on his left hand can be seen.

 A Coal Miner In Pennsylvania:

 

Grandpop’s family settled in the coal mining regions of Pennsylvania with many of their kinsmen.  It’s interesting and kind of sad that they settled in the coal mining region as back in their country, Grandpop’s grandparents were farmers, and his own father was a carpenter. Nevertheless, it was where they, and many of their countrymen, took up residence and made their home.  Eventually two more children were added to the mix.

The story is told of Grandpop having a bit of a skirmish in the 8th grade. Apparently he had an altercation with a teacher, therefore deciding (to himself) never to go back to school. He went to the coal mines and secured a job, something his father never wanted any of his kids to do. So while his parents thought he was attending school each day, he was working in the mines. Eventually the school contacted his family, and Grandpop was found out. Somehow, I imagine, heated arguments ensued, he kept his job at the mines, and never went back to school.

lincoln logs

Grandpop’s Homemade Lincoln Logs

 Philadelphia, Here I Come!

 

At some point, I believe in the late teen years, Grandpop and one of his brothers decided they would not live in the coal-mining region for the rest of their lives. They had the “world” to conquer. They left family behind and made their way to Philadelphia where they each met and married their wives, had children and settled down.

I remember Grammy and Grandpop living in a row home in Philadelphia. I loved to go there. It was inviting and friendly and fun. Grandpop was fun (in my eyes anyway). Apparently even as a young child he was a handful. It was told that he was playing with fireworks (forbidden) and they exploded. He lost two digits on his hands. One is his thumb digit. As an adult, he always, always, smoked a pipe and he used that thumb, or what was left of it, to press down the tobacco in the pipe. I always though it was very clever of him as that digit was just the right size!

When Grandpop settled in Philadelphia, he secured a job with Abbott’s Dairy. He worked there until he retired. He barely made enough to support the family (by now with three children) but it was a fun place to work so he kept at it. My dad (the oldest child and only son) tells of having to work at a very young age selling eggs, just to help make ends meet.

Grandpop's cowboy and indians

Grandpop’s Cowboys and Indians

Grandpop was very creative and handy. He made his very own made-to-look-like Lincoln Logs, and I believe, crafted little cowboys and Indians, possibly made out of lead as they are heavy. He would be amazed and proud that even today, his great-great grand kids are still playing with the logs! (The little figures are put away, as no doubt they are covered in lead paint!)

Grandpop’s job at Abbott’s Dairy was as a mechanic and he put his skills to good use. Lack of formal education never seemed to hold him back.

The following comes from The Philly History Blog:

 

“Abbott’s Dairy shut down in 1984, after 108 years.

It is too bad. It sounds like it was a fun company.

In 1937 they put out a book called Raggedy Ann and Maizie Moocow,

with an ice cream driven plot (meant to illustrate the healthful benefits of ice cream).

It’s dairy truck drivers are remembered to have been known

to throw kids free ice cream sandwiches. . .”

 

Yep, sounds like a good fit for Grandpop!

 

Their street of row homes was a delight. Each connected with the other and if you sat on the tiny front porch and looked in both directions, you could wave to your neighbors probably ten houses each way. There was an alley in back where all the cars drove in and garages were under each home. Overlooking the alley, in between each home, was a tiny porch off the kitchen attached to the neighbors kitchen door. (the expression “back-door neighbors” comes to mind!) The porch was big enough for Grammy to stand on and yell down to us kids as we played in the alley to “put away our skates and come in for supper.”

At one end of the street was a little shop of some kind where one could buy the necessities – milk, bread, eggs, etc. At the other end, we could always count on a street vendor selling hot pretzels! Philadelphia Hot Pretzels! YUM! I know the tradition was to eat them with yellow mustard, but I was a holdout on the mustard. Just give me that big, soft, salty pretzel and I was good! Actually better than good!

Sometimes, if we were lucky, a little truck would come down the street playing a merry tune to get our attention. It was decked out in all pretty colors and on the back was a little tiny carousel with maybe four seats. I loved that thing and always begged Grammy for a ride. Money was so precious but she never said no.

Grandpop had a dog named Suzy.  That dog loved Grandpop and the feeling was quite mutual. Suzy knew Grandpop’s schedule and was at the ready when it was come-home-from-work time. Sweet little dog!

Grandpop3

Grandpop and Suzy

 The Florida Years

 

At one point in his career, Abbott’s Dairy sent Grandpop to Florida to give input on designing an ice cream shop for an extension of the company. Well, he had never been south of New Jersey before and fell in love with Florida!

When he retired, he decided he and Grammy would move there.  She was heartbroken because their whole family was in the Philadelphia area – her two daughters (my aunts) with their husbands and children, along with my dad (their son) and our family. But Grandpop had made up his mind and off they went. I was in second grade.

Obviously we ourselves headed south a lot, at all times of the year, to visit. But Grammy only lived three years in Florida before her death.  Grandpop’s health and mind suffered in later years but he was surrounded by his family as he eventually moved back “home”.

 

Sweet Memories

 

The memories are sweet and I will always remember his “fun” influence in my life.

A little fun fact: my dad and his cousin (both sons of the two brothers who left the coal-mining regions) each bought houses across the street from one another in Willow Grove. Dad’s cousin moved out of state when I was two years old so I did not remember them but years later, my second (or is it third) cousin (our mothers were pregnant at the same time) was doing family research and tracked us down.

I thank Janice for her research going all the way back to our roots in Ireland, which I’ve used here and for her new friendship. It’s really kind of amazing because she lives in South Carolina; our grandparents are buried in Pennsylvania; I live in Missouri!

I have fond vivid pictures of life in that row home in Philadelphia and my Grammy and Grandpop. I sure wish I had asked a lot of questions about them! But I was just a kid!!!

I’ll just have to hang on to my memories!

 

Phyllis

Phyllis Easterbrook

Thanks to Phyllis for sharing her grandfather’s immigrant tale with us today. On her blog PJ, Your Friend, Phyllis shares random thoughts and ideas and describes herself as a newish writer and storyteller. She is thankful for the words God gives her to share, and hopes readers enjoy, relate, and find meaning in her stories.  You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

If any other readers would like to share their family’s immigrant tales, please feel free to contact me with your submission. I love to hear stories of our ancestors and how their American dreams came to fruition.

 

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

Introducing The Baltimore Irish Railroad Workers Museum Plus A DVD Giveaway

When the Irish arrived en masse to the United States in the late 1840’s, many settled in Southwest Baltimore City.  What made Baltimore, Maryland so appealing to immigrants was the hope of finding work on the Baltimore & Ohio railroad.

Front of the Baltimore Irish Railroad Workers' Museum

Their legacy is celebrated today at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum, an Irish American historic site in Baltimore. The museum officially opened on June 17th, 2002.

 

The Prize:

 

Today I’m delighted to sponsor a reader giveaway. The prize is a DVD, From Famine To Fortitude, produced by The Irish Railroad Workers Museum. It recounts the story of the Irish experience in Baltimore, and will appeal to history buffs, or Irish Americans with an interest in our ancestors’ journey.

Before I share the details of our giveaway, let me first tell you about my visit to this wonderful museum….

 

Celtic Cross at the Baltimore Irish Museum

An Irish Tourist’s Experience In Baltimore, Maryland:

 

Two years ago my family took an east coast summer trip to visit New York, Washington DC, and to see our favorite soccer team, Liverpool, play a friendly game in Baltimore.

While there, I sneaked in a quick visit to “The Irish Shrine”.  I should have remembered to leave my four kiddos with their Dad at the hotel. But being a good Irish American mom I thought I might introduce them to their heritage and possibly kindle within them a burning love of history.

 

An old washstand with pitcher and bowl

Bad move. I should have known my trio of then five year olds, and eight year old son, wouldn’t have the slightest scrap of interest in a museum, unless of course it was a Children’s Museum with flashing lights, knobs to twist, levers to pull, and a plethora of interactive activities.

 

What’s happening to the world?

 

Kids are addicted to playing gadgets. An overexposure to electronics is dulling their minds, so that unless they are bombarded with snippets of visual stimuli, they are unable to appreciate the depth of knowledge before them.  I’ll get off my soap box now, because let’s face it – that’s a topic for another day.

And to tell you the truth, I simply wasn’t thinking. My kids were just too young to really understand the wonderful experience offered at this quaint, little museum.

An old trunk as a bedside table

The reason it has taken me two years to share these photos is that they were just plain terrible. That is until now. I recently discovered the incredible power of photo editing, with lighting adjustments.

Little hands and fingers, heads and turned backs, which were ruining my shots have all been chopped and cropped. Bad lighting has been somewhat compensated for, and now I believe these photos are worthy of sharing, especially if they help spread the word about this urban, historical gem.

Dresses hanging on hooks at the Baltimore Irish Museum

This site consists of a group of 5 alley houses, originally the homes of Irish immigrants who worked for the adjoining railroad.  The museum is housed in two of these houses, at 918 and 920 Lemmon Street.   

A copper kettle on a stove - Copy

“The Irish Railroad Workers Museum

is part of a larger history-rich community,

unusual because it is still intact,

consisting of the places where the Irish lived,

worked, worshipped, and were buried.”

 

- Description from the Irish Railroad Workers Museum website

Wahsboards from days gone by

The homes in this historical district were slated for demolition back in 1997, but luckily a group of concerned citizens recognized these houses were not just bricks and mortar, but could be a surviving monument to the lives of the Irish who first called Baltimore home.

 

Victorian Shaving Time

Thanks to their efforts and dedication this historical district still stands today and includes the B&O Railroad Museum, St. Peter the Apostle Church, the Hollins Street Market, and St. Peter the Apostle Cemetery.

Baltimore Irish Railroad Workers Museum

This old chest of drawers is a treasure trove for anyone who enjoys a good immigrant tale. Within the drawers lie pictures of Irish men and women from days gone by. Each picture is linked to an audio recording, telling of that immigrant’s experience.

I could have spent hours listening to these stories, but alack and alas, it was not to be. I had listened to possibly two sentences of the first narration, when I had to interrupt with a gentle plea:

“Don’t touch that!”

 followed shortly afterwards by a louder motherly yell:

“Don’t break that.”

 

Statue of the Sacred Heart

My Irish accent bellowing from the top floor may have led visitors on the lower level to believe the place was haunted by an Irish motherly ghost from many moons ago.

Irish American Memorbilia at the Baltimore Irish American Museum

Speaking of the supernatural, look at the middle portrait of the three, poised on the old trunk. I can’t remember if this old black and white photo was so eerie looking in real life, or if this is some illusion from my camera.

Or perhaps, she is an Irish mother of old, whose spirit was stirred by my crew’s high jinx.  She was probably joining in my chorus, warning them not to lay a finger on anything.

 

An old outhouse - Copy

My kids didn’t pay the slightest bit of attention to any of the beautiful memorabilia housed within the museum, until low and behold we went out to the small back yard.

 

And there it stood!

 

The highlight of our tour!

 

The one!

 

The only!

 

The OUTHOUSE!

 

The moment my kids laid eyes on this wooden cubicle, they were fascinated.  I was flabbergasted. It took an unexpected encounter, with a rest room from days gone by, to stir my little ones’ interest in the past.

 

“But what if it was raining?” they asked.

 

“They ran for it,” I explained.

 

“And what happened in the snow?”

 

“Rain, hail or shine, this was the loo.”

 

The outhouse was a conversation piece for the rest of our trip.

 

Reneactment of a game of cards in an old Irish pub in Baltimore, Maryland

I wish to extend my gratitude to the lovely gentleman who took us on our tour of this fabulous museum. I know I wrote your name on a little piece of paper, which got buried in the filing cabinet of my purse, never to be seen again.

Thank you for your patience, your kindness, and your wonderful lessons on the Irish American experience. I thoroughly enjoyed our chat.

And thanks for reassuring me, not to worry about my kiddos’ eagerness to keep moving on, and checking things out. You truly made our visit to The Irish Railroad Workers’ Museum a pleasure.

Above all, I appreciate the hours you volunteer to preserve the stories of our immigrant forefathers, who paved the way for us in this vast and amazing country.

Serving a drink at an old pub or shebeen

 The Giveaway:

 

While at the museum I purchased copies of the DVD From Famine To Fortitude: The Irish Experience in Baltimore.  This wonderfully researched documentary tells the story of Irish immigrants who left Ireland at the time of the Great Hunger to make a new life in America.

To enter our giveaway just leave a comment on this blog post by noon on Saturday, August 23rd, 2014 at noon.  You can leave any comment you wish. What you write does not affect your chances of winning.

If you need some inspiration, why not tell us if you have visited any Irish American historical site in the US that commemorates our ancestors.

 

A winning comment will be chosen randomly.  Remember to leave your e-mail so I can contact you should you win.  Your e-mail will not be published or shared, just used to for contact purposes.

The winner will be announced on Saturday August 23rd, at the end of this post.  I’ll send the winner an e-mail so I can mail the prize.

Best of luck to all our entrants.

 

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014: – The winner of this DVD is Debbie Chartoff.  Thanks to all who entered and supported this little giveaway.

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

Tribute To An Irish Mother

Mothers will be celebrated throughout the United States this Sunday. When working on a post to describe the attributes of Irish and Irish American mothers, I came across this speech, delivered a number of years ago to a gathering of the Irish America Fund, by the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden.

His heartfelt, poignant words, dedicated to his own mother, perfectly sum up the way I feel about my Irish mother.  My words seemed inadequate beside this beautiful tribute. I decided instead to share his eloquent speech with you today, as a tribute to mothers everywhere.

 

Tribute to an Irish Mother

 

“Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden is the soul, spirit and essence of what it means to be an Irish American.

 

She is spiritual.

She is romantic.

She honors tradition,

and understands the thickest of all substances is blood,

and the greatest of all virtues is love.

 

She has taught her children, all her children in my neighborhood who flocked to her hearth, that you are defined by your sense of honor and you are redeemed by your loyalty.  She is quintessentially Irish — a combination of pragmatism and optimism.

She also understands as my friend Pat Moynihan once said, there is no “point in being Irish if you don’t know that the world is going to break your heart eventually.”

But she is more. She measures success in how quickly you get up after you have been knocked down.

 

She believes bravery lives in every heart,

and her expectation is that it will be summoned.

Failure at some point in everyone’s life is inevitable,

but giving up is unforgivable.

 

As long as you are alive you have an obligation to strive. And you are not dead until you’ve seen God’s face. My mother is a living portrait of what it means to be Irish – – proud, on the edge of defiance. Generous to a fault. Loyal to the end.

She made not only me believe, but scores of my friends and acquaintances believe in themselves. As a child I stuttered. She said it was because I was so bright I couldn’t get the thoughts out quickly enough. When my face was dirty, and I was not as well dressed as others, she told me how handsome I was. When my wife and daughter were killed, she told me God sends no cross a man is not able to bear.

 

And when I triumphed, she reminded me it was because of others.

 

She was watching through the kitchen window as I got knocked down by two bigger guys behind my grandfather’s home. She sent me back out and demanded that I, to use their phrase, “bloody their nose,” so I could walk down that alley the next day.

When my father quit his job on the spot because his abusive boss threw a bucket full of silver dollars on the floor of a car dealership to humiliate his employees, she told him how proud she was.

 

No one is better than you,

You are every man’s equal,

and every man is equal to you.

You must be a man of your word,

for without your word you are not a man.

 

When I was in eighth grade, I was a lieutenant on the safety patrol. My job was to keep order on the bus. My sister and best friend Valerie acted up. At dinner that night I told my mother and father I had a dilemma. I had to turn my sister in – it was a matter of honor. My parents said that was not my only option. The next day I turned my badge in.

I believe the traits that make my mother a remarkable woman mirror the traits that make the Irish a remarkable people. Bent, but never bowed. Discriminated against, but always looking down at their discriminator. Economically deprived, but spiritually enriched. Denied an education, but a land of scholars and poets.

As I look out at those massive Corinthian columns, I see my 5 foot, 2 inch mother, who stands taller in my eyes than any pillar in this room.

And I think of the Irish poem “Any Woman” by Katherine Tynan:

 

“I am the pillars of the house;

The keystone of the arch am I.

Take me away, and roof and wall

Would fall to ruin utterly.

 

I am the fire upon the hearth,

I am the light of the good sun,

I am the heat that warms the earth,

Which else were colder than a stone.”

 

- From a speech by Joseph R. Biden

 

Joe Biden’s mother passed away in 2010.  Her legacy is truly appreciated by her son. 

As an Irish American Mom I strive to be a straight-talking but supportive, encouraging mother, just like she was.

Wishing you all a very happy Mother’s Day.

 

 

 

Lá Na Máithreacha Shona Daoibh!

(Happy Mother’s Day)

Irish American Mom

The Murphy Family Comes to America

Today I am thrilled to share a new immigrant tale – the story of the Murphy family of Seattle, and one reader’s quest to trace his Irish roots.

Created by Kerry Thomas Murphy,

Seattle, March 27, 2013

 

This is the story of learning about my Irish family. Like all stories…there has to be a beginning. Was it in 1846 when my great great grandfather was born?  Or does it begin the day I decided to find the family?

Growing up, I knew I was Irish…with a name Kerry Thomas Murphy…well not much of a stretch there.  My dad was always saying how “that got my Irish  temper up!”

My grand father had a touch of a brogue…

 

“Quit running in the house, or you will fall on your noggin!”

“Oh, by the saints! Will you look at that!” 

 

No one ever talked about Ireland. As a child, it was almost down played. My mom is Native American, so I was able to get the advantages of that.

On my mom’s side were scary drunken Indians…on my dad’s side, it was a little better.  My grandfather drank, but it was calm. The food was good…we had lots of ham, lots of mashed potatoes with green onion, potato soup…

My grandfather was a character, and always had a pet name for everyone…he loved his beer, and after 30 years of driving a truck for Boeing, he retired in 1969. My dad, started driving for Boeing in 1974, and I followed in 2001.

It wasn’t until 2012 I gave any thought to my heritage. My wife Traci, became a member of Ancestry.com. Traci told me I should start my family tree. I did.

Within a day I was really shocked and surprised. I was really more Irish than I ever thought! I became very fascinated and started my quest to figure out where the Murphy clan came from. No living person in our family could answer that. I now knew I would become a detective.

Every family member knew that John Murphy came from Ireland, as well as his wife Margaret Ryan. No other facts. I had researched a little bit of my great grandpa Thomas, but John and Margaret……Where to start?

I assumed it was a nice love story, John and Margaret married before they left for America. I spent too many wasted hours on this theory…they met in America…

Dunbrody_famine_ship_-_geograph.org.uk_-_491448

19th Century Transatlantic Ship – © Copyright Shaun McGuire and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License.

Image Credit

John came to America in 1865 and was married in April 1870. I found a distant relative that had some facts about them. I figured that I might be able to get more info if I could get death certificates. I ordered them online.

Bingo! Or so I thought….John’s parents were Michael Murphy and Mary O’Brien. Margaret, only had a father listed, another Michael. I struggled and struggled to find a Michael Murphy, Mary O’Brien, and a son named John…. born in 1847.

I went to Roots Ireland.com…. I came up with a zero…close matches but not right. I decided to take a chance…what if Mary O’Brien was…not O’Brien but Ryan? I typed it in …I got several matches!  I found my threesome! John, was baptized in St. Abbens County Laois, and lived in Turra! I continued to research…….I found the parents of both Michael and Mary…using the knowledge of how the Irish named their children….I was able to find relatives up to the late 1600’s!!!!!!!!!!

You might think that was the mystery of where my family came from, but it’s only the beginning.  I wanted to know what it was like to be in Ireland back then… a cute cottage, a life of farming…evenings in a pub? No. Sadly no. My family was Roman Catholic and had to endure the hell of the potato famine. Life was not good for them. It’s little wonder that John never talked about Ireland. Margaret came from Tipperary, and I think she was little bit better off because the family knows a little more about her.

So John was born in 1846. He left Ireland in 1865. He took a boat to England, and was bound for America with his brothers and sisters. John was poor, and uneducated.  He landed in New York. Between 1965 and 1870, he met, and married Margaret, and lived in Connecticut.   He had two children, and around 1880 he decided to head west.

Old Western Covered Wagon

Old Western Covered Wagon

Image Credit

The Family always said it was looking for work. The first stop was Illinois…. All he knew was farming. His wife taught him how to read and write and was known for her temper. After Illinois, it was onto the Minnesota territories…more farming…more kids.

His eldest, Thomas, was given to drink, was a painter, a bar room bouncer, and square dance caller. It was said his temper was so bad, he cold coked a horse bare fisted with one hit. He loved to fight….One night calling a square dance….he met my great grandmother. My great grandmother was a Murphy, but protestant. She was disowned by her family for marrying a catholic. They were married in 1900 in Iowa.

The family lived mostly in isolation  and this is probably why so many things stayed the same…I’m sure that is why my grandpa still was so Irish……the family hitched up the horses and wagons…and move to Spokane Washington where most of the family lived, and John and most of his boys farmed.

Mt._Rainier_from_Boeing_Field

Mount Rainier from Boeing Field

Image Credit

Except one…. Thomas. He wasn’t a farmer. And for some reason packed up his wife and kids and headed to Seattle. Thomas and most of his boys were house painters and wall paper hangers. Thomas would go on to hang wall paper in the most expensive houses of the day…but “Always had whiskey on his breath.”

Of course, there was going to be one boy, not to follow. William Murphy Sr. Who, in the late thirties became a Teamster and drove a truck. His boy, decided to drive a truck. And, Myself? Followed in the footsteps of my father, and my father’s father. I still have a lot to learn about my families history…

View of County Laois from the Rock of Dunamase

View of County Laois from the Rock of Dunamase

Image Credit

I want to go to County Laois, and perhaps retire there. I have so much to learn. So this is my family’s story. The story of a Murphy coming to America. In the end it’s the story of learning. It’s the story of Irish history for better or worse.  It’s reclaiming the lost history of a family that saw troubled and tough times, but did okay. This is really the story of me.

Hope you enjoy – ……………………………………………….Kerry.

 

Thank you, Kerry, for sharing your family’s story with us. I hope you get to go to County Laois someday and see where it all began.

 

Go Raibh Maith Agat

(Thank You)

 

Irish American Mom

 

 

The Crest – A Documentary Film About Two Descendants Of The King Of The Blaskets

“Two descendants of an Irish king journey to the island he once presided over — not to reclaim the land, but to surf the waves.”

This tagline captured my imagination. Today I am delighted to share a guest post, written by Eliza Kane, co-producer of an amazing documentary film, The Crest

It tells the story of two descendants of the King of the Blasket Islands who have never met.  Patrick Kane’s (in Irish Pádraig O Catháin’s) great-great-grandsons have inherited a deep seated love for the ocean and surfing.  Upon discovering each other, they arranged to meet for the first time in the land of their unique heritage, to explore their history and satisfy a desire to conquer the dangerous water of The Blasket Islands. This week their dreams will become reality.

 

Here is Eliza’s story……

 

The Blasket Islands

View Of The Blasket Islands From The County Kerry Coast

I grew up hearing tales about a legend of Irish culture, the small collection of sparsely populated isles off the coast of West Kerry known as the Blaskets. Though beloved in Ireland for their rugged beauty and the iconic folk lifestyle that prevailed there since approximately the 11th century, not many Americans are aware of this magical place – I happened to be more fortunate because my father’s family hails from it.

Still, I never expected to play a role in passing those stories on by co-producing a full-scale documentary. That is, not until last summer, when through a nexus of fateful alignments Butter Flavored Films green lit the project; I came on board to assist my brother John, who had fostered the idea into a solid pitch.

There have already been many studies on the fishermen and families who settled An Blascaod Mór, the Great Blasket Island. Historians and literary scholars are fascinated by its time capsule-like preservation of pre-Anglicized gaeltacht culture, the wealth of Irish-language memoirs and poetry that emerged from so small a community, and the eventual demise of the island.

Painting Surf Boards On The Blasket Islands

Andy (the east coast cousin) painting surfboards handmade by Dennis (the west coast cousin) in front of their great great grandfather’s house on the Great Blasket.

It was evacuated by the government in 1953; the reasons given spoke to the welfare of the last inhabitants: the fundamental unsustainability of their lifestyle given limited resources and dwindling youth, the unrelenting danger of the waters that separated them from the mainland, and perhaps most poetically, their growing loneliness.

But the film my brother and I are producing will not be a mere re-telling of what is already known and romanticized about the Blaskets; it will instead revive the ghosts of those lost generations by telling its own story, one set in the present day. This story features two direct descendants of the most famous Blasket king, Padraig O’Cathain (Kane), American cousins who happen to have their own reckless love for fatal waters: they have both devoted their lives to surfing.

Denis 'DK' Kane

Denis ‘DK’ Kane

 Image Credit

Due to the separation of Kane family branches when their parents were young, Dennis “DK” Kane and Andy Jacob just found out about each other as adults, only some months ago. While doing research on his unique Blasket roots, DK was able to track down my brother John. When we realized this long lost cousin seemed to be a west coast version of Andy, with whom we’d grown up on the east coast, we knew they had to get acquainted – and they will, meeting for the first time during Ireland’s historic reunion of international offspring, The Gathering.

During this weeklong celebration we are documenting the meeting of these youths and their attempts to catch the waves that both kept their ancestors protected from cultural genocide and ultimately pushed them out of their reclusion and into the American frontier. We will also capture what it is for these two boys to discover each other while grown and to re-graft the severed branches of their family tree in the country of its roots.

Andrew Jacob

Andrew Jacob

 Image Credit

It could seem that I am enamored with this story because it belongs to my family, but I would argue that truly, it is the story of everyone who has emigrated and of their children’s children who grow up elsewhere. We, the grand- or great-grand children of immigrants are often reminded of the fact that we are not just American, and yet it remains a mystery as to what that something is.

For example, all my life people have approached me and said, “Let me guess – you’re Irish.” I suppose that with my fair, freckled complexion and fiery hair it seems a safe bet, and genetically speaking, it is right on the mark.

Literally, however, I am only American, as are my parents and theirs.

So how much am I actually Irish, if at all?

 

Did I only inherit a stereotypical silhouette,

or might something of my ancestors’ homeland

and their passions have been transmitted as well?

 

Arriving On the Blasket Islands

The Surfers & Film Crew Arriving On The Blasket Islands This Weekend.

These are questions every non-native American must shoulder, whether or not she addresses them consciously. There looms the shadow of an orphan complex among all of us who are descended from the pioneering spirits of immigrants. It is natural to crave reunion, to look backward and beyond our current circumstances to understand their origins.

The Irish intuit that stories like DK and Andy’s are out there waiting to be told, which is why they have organized the Gathering to invite us back. And we, the estranged children of Ireland, are only too glad to go and be embraced by the culture that birthed our families into being.

To learn more about our documentary, “The Crest”, please visit www.crestmovie.com

We will gratefully accept pledges to our fundraising campaign via Kickstarter through the morning of 4 June 2013, after which support can be directed to elizakane@butterflavoredfilms.com. Thank you!

Eliza Kane

Eliza C. Kane

Image Credit

Eliza C. Kane earned a BA and MA in literature with a concentration in Eco-criticism. She has taught anglophone literature and writing at University of Massachusetts Boston as well as Lycée Félix Esclangon in Provence, France.

Originally from Vermont, often on the road, now based in Cambridge, MA, Eliza works for the Alliance Française and devotes her free time to creative writing, conceptual art, and other narrative projects such as this one. Her work has appeared in such publications as Inertia Magazine, Ekleksographia, nthWORD Magazine, Stranded in Stereo, San Diego CityBeat, and The Mass Media.

 

Thank you for this wonderful article. Wishing Eliza and her team every success with this fabulous project. I hope your fundraising efforts will help bring this documentary to fruition.

Enjoy every moment of your time in Ireland and County Kerry, Eliza. I hope your experiences there will help you reconnect with the land of your ancestors. Although you may be first and foremost an American, your Irish ancestors’ passions for life, storytelling and adventure runs deep in your veins. As an Irish woman born and bred, I say you and yours will always be Irish too.  I look forward to watching the finished documentary.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom