To Ireland’s Far-Flung Exiles / A Poem By Irish American Mom

Ruined stone cottages lie dotted across the Irish landscape, permanent reminders of Ireland’s emigrants, forced to leave their homes by famine, and eviction. Over one million people left Ireland in the years of the Great Hunger from 1845 to 1850, and in the decades after many more followed.

Every time I see the old shell of a stone cottage I think of Ireland’s diaspora. In today’s post I thought I would share a poem I wrote dedicated to Ireland’s exiles, who made their new homes in America.

 

An Irish Half-Door

 To Ireland’s Far-Flung Exiles

by Mairéad Geary

 

They left these shores carting their memories of Irish summers:
Nettles drooping under the weight of glittering raindrops,
Wild blackberries beckoning on thorny bushes;
Yellow furze, purple heather, the colors of rural childhoods;
Lingering twilights, soft rains, rugged cliffs with secret caves,
Unceasing waves, bronzed for hours by the rays of the setting sun.

 

Heather and Gorse

On Ireland’s furrowed shores, I explore their untamed territory,
Discovering abandoned ruins, eerie memorials in barren fields;
Roofless shells with tumbling chimneys and spiritual hearths,
Systematically overgrown by nature’s wild abandon;
Eternal reminders of far-flung exiles, and their children’s children,
Dreaming of Ireland from some place far away.

An Old Irish House Ruin

I stand alone in green fields, gazing skyward at contrails
Pointing the way toward a western watery horizon.
My thoughts turn to refugees, viciously ousted,
Nothing but rags shrouding gaunt, emaciated bodies,
Silently trudging to port, in search of virulent vessels;
Some long forgotten, lost forever in their salty oblivion.

Irish Famine Eviction

Through melancholy mists and harrowing storms, some survived
The wretchedness of ocean crossing and mountain crossing,
Only to be scattered like rain drops upon thousands of valleys,
Where they learned to hope anew, paying tribute to their homeland
In sweat and tears; toiling to the rhythm of their songs;
Whilst laying the foundations for the winding roads of your dreams.

The Jeanie Johnston Famine Ship -  at night

And when those deep-seated recollections haunt you,
Echoing from the land where your forebears sleep
Beneath enduring lunar stones, listen to the bleak cry of time.
Come wade through rain-drenched grass, in praise of summer days.
Let Ireland’s gentle breezes polish your scars, and the light of home
Illuminate the ties that bind you to a new and ancient world.

Graveyard at Myross, West Cork

To all those with Irish roots who will visit Ireland this summer, may you feel a warm welcome in your ancestral home. I wish you safe travels. May you feel a deep and meaningful connection to the land of our forefathers.

 

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

Ships, Boats And Ferries – A Nostalgic Tribute

Ferries and ships depart and dock at Dublin’s ports on a daily basis. These boats mesmerize me.  Whenever I am in Dublin I often sit in my car, parked at the Summit in Howth, overlooking Dublin Bay.  Dublin’s waters grow busy, especially during afternoon rush hour.

Nostalgia overwhelms me watching Dublin’s shipping lanes. I left Ireland by airplane, so at first I didn’t understand why boats strike an emotional chord in my heart.

Stena Line

My mother will never watch these boats with me. She says they make her too sad, reminding her of days when all three of her daughters worked across the waters on foreign shores.

But I have never experienced a mother’s sadness at the loss of her children, yet these boats remind me of our nation’s sorrow. We are a country of immigrants, and even to this very day the Ireland’s young people are boarding ships and planes to seek their fortunes on distant shores.

In America boats are associated with leisure pursuits such as fishing, water skiing, cruising, and house-boating. The lonesomeness of immigration does not spring to most Americans’ minds upon seeing a water craft.

Not so for the Irish. Ever since I was a child, I have listened to Ireland’s folk music. Many of our traditional songs emphasize the pain of leaving family, friends and homeland. When I examined the lyrics of some Irish boat songs I realized I have been programmed since an early age to feel nostalgic at the sight of a ship.

In today’s post I share some excerpts from the sad, lonely songs of Ireland which focus on the pain of leaving. I hope these photos I took last summer will help illustrate the poignancy of these well-loved words.

The Cliffs Of Dooneen

 

“You may travel far far from your own native land

Far away o’er the mountains, far away o’er the foam

But of all the fine places that I’ve ever been

Sure there’s none can compare with the cliffs of Doneen.”

 

Irish Ferries By The Bailey Lighthouse

Carrickfergus

 

“I wish I was in Carrickfergus, only four nights in Ballygran

I would swim over the deepest ocean, the deepest ocean for my love to find.

But the sea is wide and I cannot swim over, and neither have I wings to fly

If I could find me a handsome boatman to ferry me over to my love and I.”

 

Irish Ferries

Come Back Paddy Reilly

 

“And tones that are tender and tones that are gruff

Are whispering over the sea,

“Come back, Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff

Come home, Paddy Reilly, to me”.

 

Ship By Howth

Botany Bay

 

“Farewell to your bricks and mortar

Farewell to your dirty lime

Farewell to your gangway and gang planks

And to hell with your overtime

For the good ship Ragamuffin

She is lying at the quay

For to take old Pat with a shovel on his back

To the shores of Botany Bay.”

 

Stena Line Passing Howth

The Shores Of Amerikay

 

“I’m bidding farewell to the land of my youth and the home I love so well

And the mountains so grand round my own native land

I’m bidding them all farewell

With an aching heart I’ll bid them adieu

For tomorrow I’ll sail far away

O’er the raging foam for to seek a home

On the shores of Amerikay.”

 

Stena Line Passing the Kish Lighthouse

Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore

 

“Our ship she lies at anchor, she’s standing by the quay

May fortune bright shine down each night, as we sail over the sea

Many ships were lost, many lives it cost on the journey that lies before

With a tear in my eye I’m bidding good-bye to Paddy’s Green shamrock shore.”

 

Ferry Leaving Dublin

The Leaving Of Liverpool

 

“So fare thee well, my own true love

And when I return, united we will be

It’s not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me

But my darling, when I think of thee.”

 

Ferry In Dublin Bay

The Irish Rover

 

“In the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and six

We set sail from the sweet cove of Cork

We were sailing away with a cargo of bricks

For the grand city hall of New York

‘Twas an elegant craft, she was rigged fore and aft

And oh how the trade winds drove her

She could stand several blasts, she had twenty-seven masts

And they called her the Irish Rover.”

 

Ferry Photo Taken on Dollymount

The Holy Ground

 

“Now when we’re out a-sailing and you are far behind

Fine letters will I write to you with the secrets of my mind,

The secrets of my mind, my girl, you’re the girl that I adore,

And still I live in hope to see the Holy Ground once more.

You’re the girl that I adore,

And still I live in hope to see the Holy Ground once more.”

 

Boat In Dublin Bay

Farewell To Dublin In My Tears

 

“And now I’m standing on the Quay, my destiny’s uncertain

Where fortunes have been lost and won with the dealing of a hand

The past it is a purple haze, the future is an untold maze

The present is another gaze at dear old Dublin Town.”

 

Crow Watching The Stena Line Ferry

Home To Donegal

 

“The lights of London, are far behind

The thoughts of homeland are crowding my mind

Familiar places, come in to view

I see my home now, soon I’ll see you.”

 

Dublin's Boat, Ships and Ferries

Fiddler’s Green

 

“Wrap me up in me oil-skin and jumper

No more on the docks I’ll be seen

Just tell me old shipmates,

I’m taking a trip mates

And I’ll see you some day in Fiddler’s Green.”

 

Dublin Port

The Fields Of Athenry

 

“By a lonely harbour wall

She watched the last star falling.

And that prison ship sailed out against the sky.

Sure she’ll wait and hope and pray,

for her love in Botany Bay.

It’s so lonely round the fields of Athenry.”

 

I hope you’re not too teary after all these sad lyrics. Nostalgic and sentimental definitely are words to describe these excerpts.

And so now I think you’ll understand why the mere sight of a ship makes me a little wistful.  Do you ever feel the same way?

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

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