An Irish-American finds his roots (in my garden)

[Originally posted on MyT]

In early 2006, my local community was planning to celebrate the sesquicentenary (150th anniversary) of primary education in the parish. A weekend of events was scheduled, including a visit from the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese; a book was to be published to mark the occasion. I was asked to help with the book’s production, and readily agreed.

At an early committee meeting, someone gave me a cutting from a local paper to the effect that an American writer, JM, had published a novel based on the lives of his nineteenth-century ancestors, who came from our area. I emailed him to ask if he might like to contribute a chapter to our book; he responded promptly and had sent the chapter within a few days … it told the story of how he traced his Irish forebears and researched their lives for his novel.

As it transpired, JM’s great-great-grandfather, who emigrated to Pennsylvania, had lived half a mile down the road from where I now live. That man’s brother had dwelt exactly where my house stands: he was a flax-grower and smith who leased 19 acres from the Marquess of Headfort and operated a household manufactory, employing a cooper (whose descendants, I believe, now live next door to me) and several spinners.

JM came over that June for the Irish launch of his book, accompanied by his daughter, and they both spent some time at our house – I cooked them a meal and showed them the crumbling remnants of the flax-grower’s house and outhouses, in my garden. JM is a pleasant and interesting man in his seventies … he spent his career overseas, working for the World Bank, and had met Haile Selassie and other notables.

The sesquicentenary book was duly published that summer … as well as JM’s chapter, it consists of local history, photographs, and the primary-school memories of 80 or so people from the very young to the very old, including my daughter. The President came (and was presented with a stained-glass lamp that my wife had made), the sun shone, and a good weekend was had by all in our corner of rural Co. Cavan … overlooking the lake where JM’s great-great-grandfather, born in 1819, had worked as a ferryman before the New World called him.



Filed under Ireland, The music of what happened

10 responses to “An Irish-American finds his roots (in my garden)

  1. That must have been very poignant for him, Cymbeline. How lucky that they survived.

    My paternal grandfather, who died long before I was born, kept notebooks … unfortunately I have lost touch with that part of the family, and haven’t seen the notebooks. They were used in a television documentary on a local railway. He was a policeman who left the RIC (luckily) in 1917 (possibly on account of having Republican sympathies); he played the concertina and wrote poetry (of the sort that praises local places, I think).

    The incident described in this link happened on the farm where my grandmother grew up … she was Cornelius O’Keefe’s sister. My father was about 10 months old at the time, and living near by. In later life he was anything but Republican, but he told ne that the men were made to run up and down while the soldiers took pot-shots at them. I used this in a screenplay I wrote.

  2. My Great Grandmother said the Act of contrition for the Lawless brothers (or was it Lawlor?) Enough to have gotten her killed by Tans/Auxiliaries if caught.

  3. Not sure, RB … where did that happen?

    I must get my hands on a copy of Ernie O’Malley’s On Another Man’s Wound … he was an excellent writer.

  4. Loughrea, RB … must check it out. I was at a couple of folk festivals there around 30 years ago. I remember I was hitching home from one of them and the Hare Krishnas gave me a lift.

  5. Hello, Cymbeline. I never read any of McGahern’s, though he’s generally well regarded here. A playwright neighbour of mine can’t stand him, but that’s playwrights for you.

    I suppose ‘delft’ is a survival … the earthenware was made at Delft, but the word became ‘delph’ in general use (?).

  6. The thing I found interesting, Cymbeline, was that the informer was followed to America and shot (though not killed). I incorporated that idea in a screenplay I wrote. Going to America was a big deal in those days, and nearly all the men involved in that war were very young … what would have been in their minds on the journey?

    In an interview, John McGahern said something about an informer being followed to Australia and shot in those days.

    Despite being born into that milieu, my father in later life was almost neurotically pro-British and pro-establishment … to the exasperation at times of my Glasgow-Irish mother.

  7. Loughrea was where my paternal Grandmother lived. I only found out (1911 census) her family were Irish speakers. Delft, yes we use that word. Australia? The (old) IRA trailed a man named Carey to Argentina and shot him. Graffito appeared back home “Informers, we got Carey, we can get you”. 100 years before Mossad (Eichmann) too. No wonder Collins was on their reading list at Haganah. Micheal not Michelle.

  8. I think that was in Fenian times, RB, before the IRA. Had to do with the Cavendish and Burke killings:

    … and featured in the song ‘Monto’ (‘When Carey told on Skin-the-Goat, O’Donnell caught him on the boat/He wished he’d never been afloat, the dirty skite …’

  9. The IRB late 1880s? We could argue that they were proto-IRA. But we won’t.

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