“Often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us. “
Welcome to Another Thursday Doors!
This week we’re heading off to Cloyne in County Cork, Ireland for an exciting doorscursion. While I know checking out doors isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, even before I knew Thursday Doors was a thing, I’d photograph an interesting door, especially since photography has gone digital and it’s nowhere near as expensive. We have the luxury of being able to explore every nook and cranny around us through the lens without sending ourselves broke.
Although I live in Sydney, Australia, I’ve been researching my Irish roots and that’s what took me to Cloye near Midleton in County Clare last week. I was researching my 4 x Great Grandmother, Bridget Donovan, who was an inmate of Midleton Workhouse during the Great Hunger (Irish Famine) and jumped on Google Earth to get a feel for her world.
While these trips of mine via Google Earth might seem rather eccentric, they’ve actually been surprisingly beneficial. While it’s nowhere near as good to being there in person, I’ve been able to pair it up with YouTube and have enjoyed traditional Irish music in a few pubs in Carrigaholt, Clare and discovered an inspiring new author in Michael Harding thanks to Midleton Bookshop. That’s what travel does. It opens doors, but unfortunately travel has been seriously curtailed for so many of us over the last two years.
Who knows what the future is going to bring. Today, Russia invaded Ukraine, and I am praying for a miracle in this region, independence for Ukraine and long term peace.
Two years ago, our son was booked to go on a European history tour with his school, which included visiting the battlefields of WWI, and spending ANZAC Day at Villers-Bretonneaux. Wanting him to know what our family members had gone through, I started researching my Great Great Uncle, Jack Quealey, and my husband’s Great Uncle Ralph French who was Killed in Action at the Battle of Mont St Quentin.
It was all supposed to be fairly quick, and nothing more than an overview. However, it was me doing the research, and after covid hit and his trip was cancelled, unravelling and understanding their WWI experiences dramatically expanded to become “My Covid Project”, especially as lockdowns and self-isolation continue. Once again, my passionate curiosity had led me astray.
As it turned out, there were some interesting twists to their stories. Uncle Jack’s parents were Irish, and the “Bill” Uncle Ralph mentioned in his diary might’ve been born in Tasmania, but his parents and siblings were German-born. While the Irish initially supported the Empire and got behind the war effort, the 1916 Uprising and the brutal English response, reignited longstanding animosity and called for independence. I’m Australian and we weren’t taught any Irish history at school or university and I just grew up with some scant reference to the potato famine. I had no idea parts of the family had come out more recently, and what had gone on. Ireland was simply the land of green grass and Guinness. Clearly, I’ve been on a steep upward curve trying to make sense of it all, and it’s no wonder I’ve ended up in an Irish mist so much of the time.
Anyway, this brings me to this short story I wanted to share with you. Of course, it will mean a lot more to people with Irish heritage, but I really enjoyed it as a story and was also intrigued by the grandmother who can’t see, but has incredible vision- very much like a close friend of mine.
My Grandmother And Myself
By Mary Synon
ILLUSTRATIONS BY BOARDMAN ROBINSON
My grandmother was at the basement window, peering into the street as if she were watching for someone, when I came home from school. “Is that you, John?” she asked me as I stood in the hall stamping the snow from my boots. “Sure,” I called to her. “Who’d you think I was? A spirit?”
She laughed a little as I went into the room and flung down my books. My grandmother hasn’t seen any one in ten years, though she sits day after day looking out on the street as if a parade were passing; but she knows the thump of my books on the table as well as she knows the turning of my father’s key in the lock of the door. “‘Tis a lively spirit you’d make, Shauneen,” she said with that chuckle she saves for me. “No, ’twas your father I thought was coming.”
“What’d he be doing home at this time?”
“These are queer days,” she said, “and there are queer doings in them.”
“There’s nothing queer that I can see,” I told her.
“I’m an old, blind woman,” she said, “but sometimes I see more than do they who have the sight of their two eyes.”
She said it so solemnly, folding her hands one over the other as she drew herself up in her chair, that I felt a little thrill creeping up my spine. ”What do you mean?” I asked her.
“Time’ll tell you,” she said.
My mother came in from the kitchen then. “Norah forgot to order bacon for the morning,” she said. “Will you go to the market, John, before you do anything else?”
“Oh, I’m going skating,” I protested.
“It won’t take you five minutes,” said my mother. She seemed tired and worried. The look in her eyes made me feel that there was trouble hanging over the house. My mother isn’t like my grandmother. When things go wrong, my grandmother stands up straight, and throws back her shoulders, and fronts ahead as if she were a general giving orders for attack; but my mother wilts like a hurt flower. She was drooping then while she stood in the room, so I said: “All right, I’ll go,” though I’d promised the fellows to come to the park before four o’clock.
“And look in at the shop as you go by,” my grandmother said, “and see if your father’s there now.”
“Why shouldn’t he be?” my mother asked.
There was a queer sound in her voice that urged me around past my father’s shop. My father was there in the little office, going over blue-prints with Joe Krebs’s uncle and Mattie Kleiner’s father and a big man I’d never seen before. I told my grandmother when I went home. “I knew it,” she said. “I knew it. And I dreamed last night of my cousin Michael who died trying to escape from Van Diemen’s Land.”
“You knew what?” I asked her, for again that strange way of hers sent shivery cold over me.
“Go to your skating,” she bade me.
There wasn’t much skating at Tompkins Square, though, when I found the crowd. The sun had come out strong in the afternoon and the ice was melting. “Ground-hog must have seen his shadow last week,” Bennie Curtis said. All the fellows—Joe Carey and Jim Dean and Frank Belden and Joe Krebs and Mattie Kleiner and Fred Wendell and the rest of them—had taken off their skates and were starting a tug of war in the slush. Mattie Kleiner was the captain on one side and Frank Belden the captain on the other. Mattie had chosen Joe Krebs and Jim Dean and Joe Carey on his side. Just as I came along he shouted that he chose me. Frank Belden yelled that it was his choice and that he’d take me.
“He don’t want to be on your side!” Mattie cried. “He’s with the Germans!”
“Well, I guess not,” I said, “any more than I’m with the English. I’m an American.”
“You can’t be just an American in this battle,” Frank Belden said.
“Then I’ll stay out of it,” I told him.
They all started to yell ” Neutral!” and “‘Fraid cat!” and “Oh, you dove of peace!” at me. I got tired of it after a while, and I went after Mattie hard. When I’d finished with him he bawled at me: “Wait till your father knows, he’ll fix you!”
“What for?” I jeered.
“For going against his principles, that’s what,” Mattie Kleiner roared.
“I’d like to know what you know about my father’s principles,” I laughed at him.
“Well, I ought to know,” he cried. “I heard him take the oath.”
“What oath?” we all demanded, but Mattie went off in surly silence. Joe Krebs and Joe Carey trailed after him. I stayed with the other fellows until it was dark. Then I started for home.
Joe Carey was waiting for me at the corner. “Do you believe him, John?” he asked me. “Do you believe Mattie about the oath?”
“How’s that?” I parried. I seemed to remember having heard a man who’d been at the house a fortnight before whispering something about an oath, and I knew that I’d heard my mother say to my grandmother: “I pray to God he’ll get in no trouble with any oaths or promises.” I kept wondering if Mattie Kleiner’s father and Joe Krebs’s uncle and the big man with the blue-prints who’d been in my father’s shop had anything to do with it.
“Oh, Mattie’s talking in his sleep,” I said.
“Well, maybe,” said Joe Carey; “but he wasn’t sleeping the night they had the meeting in his house. He was on the stairs going up to the top floor, and he kept the door open a little way and he heard everything they said, and nobody at all knew he was there.”
Joe Carey’s eyes were almost popping out of his head, and so I knew that Mattie had been telling him a long story.
“I guess he didn’t hear very much,” I said.
“You bet he did,” Joe declared. “He heard them reading the letters telling people not to go on the ships because they were going to be sunk, and he heard them talking about bombs and munition factories. He says that he heard your father say that he’d gladly lay down his life for the sake of Ireland.”
“But Ireland’s not in this war!”
“Sure it is! Mattie says the Germans are going to free Ireland if they beat England. That’s why the Irish ought to be with the Germans. Mattie says your father’ll be awful ashamed that you wouldn’t go on his side. Mattie says your father…”
“I don’t give a whoop what Mattie says about my father,” I told him. “I guess I can take my own part.”
“I guess you’ll have to,” said Joe.
As I went up the street toward our house I had that queer feeling that comes sometimes after I’ve been away for a while, a fear that something terrible has happened while I’ve been gone and that I’ll be blamed for it. It was dark on the street, for people hadn’t lighted the lamps in the basement dining-rooms, and I was hurrying along when suddenly a man’s voice came over my shoulder. I hadn’t heard his step behind me at all, and I jumped when he spoke.
“Where does Mr. John Sutton live?” he asked me.
“Right there.” I pointed to our house.
“Do you know him?” he asked. Through the dark I could see that he was a tall man with sharp eyes. I knew that I had never seen him before, and that he didn’t look like any of the men who came to my father’s machine-shop. “Don’t you know Mr. Sutton?” he repeated.
“Know him well, sonny?”
“He’s my father.”
He whistled softly, then laughed, turned on his heel, and strode down the street. I watched him to see if he’d take the turn toward the shop, but he turned the other way at the corner. I thought that I’d tell my grandmother about him, but my mother was with her in the dark when I went in. They were talking very low, as if someone were dead in the house, but I heard my mother say, “If I only knew how far he’s gone in this!” and my grandmother mutter: “Sure, the farther he goes in, the farther back he’ll have to come.” I stumbled over a chair as I went into the room with them, and they both stopped talking.
I could hear the little hissing whisper my grandmother always makes while she says the rosary, but I could hear no sound from my mother at all until she rose with a sigh and lighted the gas-lamp. She looked at me as if she hadn’t known I’d been there. “Have you any homework to do to-night, John?” she asked me.
“No, ma’am,” I said. “It’s Friday.”
“Then I want you to come to church with me after your dinner,” she said.
“Oh, I don’t want to go to church,” I’d said before my grandmother spoke.
“‘Twill be a queer thing to me as long as I live,” she said, “that those who have don’t want what they have and that those who haven’t keep wanting.”
The telephone bell rang just then up in the room that my father uses for an office, and I raced up to answer it. A man’s voice, younger than that of the man who’d spoken to me, came over the wire. “Say, is this John Sutton’s residence?” it asked. “And is he home? And, if he isn’t, who are you?”
“What do you want?” I called.
“Information. This is The World. We hear that there’s to be a meeting of the clans to-night, and we want to know where it’s to be held.”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Can you find out?”
“No,” I lied. “There’s nobody home.”
“Won’t your father be home for dinner?”
Even then I could hear his key turning in the lock, could hear him passing on his way up to his bedroom, but a queer kind of caution was being born in me. “No, sir,” I said. (pg227)
“Who was that?” my grandmother asked me when I went down.
I told her of the call, told her, too, of the man who had stopped me on the street. Her rosary slipped through her fingers. “I feared it,” she said. Then the whisper of her praying began again.
At dinner my father was strangely silent. Usually he talks a great deal, all about politics, and the newspapers, and the trouble with the schools, and woman-suffrage, and war. But he said nothing at all except to ask me if the skating were good. My mother was just as quiet as he, and I would have been afraid to open my mouth if my grandmother hadn’t started in to tell about New York in the days she’d come here, more than sixty-five years ago. She talked and talked about how different everything had been then, with no tall buildings and no big bridges and no subways and no elevateds. “Faith, you can be proud of your native town, John,” she said to my father.
“I wish I’d been born in Ireland,” he said.
She laughed. “And if I’d stayed in Ireland, I’d have starved,” she said, “and little chance you’d have had of being born anywhere.”
“It might have been just as well,” he said bitterly.
“Oh, no,” she said; “there’s Shauneen.”
He rose from the table, flinging down his napkin. “I won’t be home till very late,” he said to my mother.
She stood up beside him. “Do you have to go, John?” she asked him.
“Yes,” he said.
“Oh, John,” she said, “I’m afraid.”
“Of what may happen you.”
“Nothing’ll happen me,” he said.
I wanted to tell him of the strange man who had halted me on the street, and of the telephone call, but my father’s anger was rising and I feared to fan it to flame. My grandmother said nothing until after my father had gone. Then she spoke to my mother.
“Don’t you know better,” she asked her, “and you eighteen years married to him, than to ask John not to do something you don’t want him to do?”
My mother began to cry as we heard the banging of the outer door after my father. “Well, if you can do nothing else,” my grandmother said, “you’d better be off to church. Keep your eyes open, Shauneen,” she warned me, while my mother was getting her hat and coat.
It was a grand night, with the evening star low in the sky, like a lamp, and the big yellow moon just rising in the east. The wind blew sharp and salt off the water, but there was a promise of spring in the air, saying that it must be almost baseball time. We went over to the Jesuit church, walking slowly all the way. There we knelt in the dark until I was stiff. As we came out my mother stopped at the holy-water font. “John,” she said, “will you promise me that if you ever marry you’ll never set any cause but God’s above your wife?”
“No, ma’am, I won’t,” I said, vaguely understanding that my father had hurt my mother by his refusal to stay at home, and wondering what cause he had set above her. As we walked toward the car line I remembered what Joe Carey had told me of Mattie Kleiner’s speech about my father. “Do you have to go to Ireland to die for Ireland?” I asked her. She clutched my hand. “My grandfather died for Ireland,” she said, “and he wasn’t the first of his line to die for her. But I pray God that he may have been the last.” She said no more till we came into our own house.
My grandmother was still at the window of the dining-room. There was no light, and my mother did not make one. “There was another telephone call,” my grandmother said. “Norah answered it. ‘Twas the newspaper calling again for John to ask about the meeting. She said she knew nothing about it and that no one was here to answer.”
“Do you suppose,” I said, “it was detectives?”
They said nothing, and I could feel a big lump coming up my throat. I thought they might not have heard me until my grandmother said: “Do you know, Kate, where the meeting is?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t want to know,” my mother cried. She turned to me sharply. “Go to bed, John,” she said.
“I know where the meetings are,” (pg 228) I blurted out, eager enough for any excuse to put off the hateful order. “They’re at Mattie Kleiner’s house, because he hides on the stairs when they come, and he heard them take the oath.”
“Is that Matthew Kleiner’s boy?” my grandmother asked, so quietly that I thought she had not realized the importance of my news.
“Go to bed, Shauneen.” She repeated my mother’s order.
I went up-stairs, leaving the two of them silent in the dark. I whistled while I undressed, but I shivered after I had turned out the light and jumped between the sheets. I was going to lie awake waiting for my father’s return, but I must have dozed, for I thought that it was in the middle of the night that something woke me. I knew, as soon as I woke, that someone was in my room. I could feel him groping. I tried to speak, but my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. Then I heard a faint whisper. “Shauneen,” it said.
So far away it seemed that I thought it might be a ghost until my grandmother spoke again. “Your mother’s in bed now,” she said. “Put on your clothes as quick as you can.”
“What is it?” I whispered.
“We’re going to Matthew Kleiner’s, you and I,” she said. “I’d go alone if I could see.”
“What time is it?”
“Between ten and eleven.”
I pulled my clothes on as fast as I could. Then stealthily as thieves we crept out from my room and down the stairs. I held my grandmother’s hand and wondered at its steadiness. When we had come outside the basement-door she halted me. “Look down the street for the tall man,” she bade me. There was no one in sight, however, and we walked along sturdily, turning corners until we came to Kleiner’s.
It was a red-brick house in a row, not a basement house like ours, but with a cellar below and an attic above its two main floors. There was no light on the first floor, but I thought that I saw a stream behind the drawn curtains upstairs. I found the bell and pushed on it hard. No one came for a long time. I rang again. I could see shadows back of the shades before Mattie Kleiner’s mother came.
“What is it?” she demanded before she opened the door.
“Tell her that your mother’s sick, and that you’ve come for your father,” my grandmother ordered me.
I repeated what she’d said.
Mrs. Kleiner opened the door. “Oh,” she cried, “it is Mrs. Sutton and little John. Oh, you did frighten me. Is the mother very sick? I shall call the father.”
“Let me go to him,” my grandmother said. We were inside the hall then, and I put her hand on the railing of the stairway. She had started up before Mrs. Kleiner tried to stop her. “I’ve a message for him,” said my grandmother. Mrs. Kleiner and I followed her. At the top of the stairs I turned her toward the front room, for I could hear the murmur of voices. I passed a door and wondered if Mattie Kleiner were hiding behind it. “Oh, we must not go in,” Mrs. Kleiner pleaded. “The men will not want us to go in.” She tried to stop us, but my grandmother turned, looking at her as if she could see her. “I’ve always followed my own conscience, ma’am,” she said, “not my husband’s, nor my son’s, nor any other man’s.”
From within the front room came the sound of the voices, growing louder and louder as we stood there, my grandmother alert, Mrs. Kleiner appalled, I myself a thrill. I could hear my father’s voice, short, sharp. “It’s our great opportunity,” he was saying. “We have only to strike the blow at England’s empire, and the empire itself will arise to aid us. Twenty thousand men flung into Canada will turn the trick. French Quebec is disaffected. What if soldiers are there? We can fight them! We may die, but what if we do? We will have started the avalanche that will destroy Carthage!”
There were cries of “Right!” to him. Then a man began to talk in German. His voice rang out harshly. From the murmurs that came out to us we knew that the men were applauding his words, but we had no idea of what the words were. Mrs. Kleiner stood wringing her hands. “Who’s in there?” my grandmother asked her.
“I do not know,” she insisted.
“Joe Krebs’s uncle is there,” I said. “I know his cough. And Mr. Winngart who keeps the delicatessen shop. And Frank Benner’s father; and that’s Mr. Carey’s voice.”
“They just meet for fun,” groaned Mrs. Kleiner.
“Sure, I saw that kind of fun before,” said my grandmother, “when the Fenians went after the Queen’s Own.”
My father’s voice rose again. “We are ready to fire the torch? We are ready to send out the word tonight for the mobilization of our sympathizers? We are ready to stand together to the bitter end?”
“We are ready!” came the shout. Then my grandmother opened the door.
Through the haze of their tobacco smoke they looked up, the dozen men crowded into the Kleiners’ front bedroom, to see my grandmother standing before them, a bent old woman in her black dress and shawl, her little jet bonnet nodding valiantly from its perch on her thin white hair. She looked around as if she could see every one of them. My father had sprung forward at her coming, and, as if to hold him off, she put up one hand.
“Is it yourself, John Sutton, who’s talking here of plots, and plans, and war?” she said. Her voice went up to a sharp edge. She flung back her head as if she defied them to answer her. All of them, my father and Joe Krebs’s uncle and Mattie Kleiner’s father and Mr. Carey and Mr. Winngart and the big man who’d had the blue-prints in the shop, and the others, stared at her as if she were a ghost. No one of them moved as she spoke.
“‘Tis a fine lot you are to be sitting here thinking ways to bring trouble on yourselves, and your wives, and your children, and your country. Who are there here of you? Is it yourself, Benedict Krebs, who’s going out to fight for Germany when your own father came to this very street to get away from Prussia? Is it you, Matthew Kleiner, who gives roof to them who plot against America, you, who came here to earn a living that you couldn’t earn at home? Is it you, Michael Carey, who’s helping them hurt the land that’s making you a rich man? Shame on you; shame on you all!”
“Why shouldn’t we fight England?” Joe Carey’s father said with a growl. “You’d be the last one, Mrs. Sutton, that I’d think’d set yourself against that.”
“‘Tis not England,” said my grandmother, “that you fight with your plots. ‘Tis America you strike when you strike here. And, as long as you stay here, be Americans and not traitors!”
They began to murmur at that, and my father said: “You don’t know what you’re talking about, mother. You’d better take John home. This is no place for either of you.”
“No more than it’s a place for you,” she said. “Will you be coming home with me now?”
“I will not,” my father said.
“Faith, and you’ll all be wishing you had,” she told them, “when the jails’ll be holding you in the morning.”
“The jails!” The big man who had held the blue-prints came closer to us. “What is it you say of jails? You have told the police, then?”
“I didn’t need to,” my grandmother said. “The government men have been watching this long time. ‘Twill be at midnight that they’ll come here. But ’tis not myself they’ll be finding.”
I saw the men’s glances flash around the room through the smoky haze before she called: “Come, Shauneen.”
I took her hand again and led her out of the room. Just before the door closed after us I saw that my father’s face had grown very white and that Mattie Kleiner’s father had dropped his pipe on the floor.
Outside the house I spoke to my grandmother tremblingly. “Do the police really know?” I asked her.
She gave her dry little chuckle. “If they don’t, they should,” she answered; “but I was born an O’Brien, and I’ve never known one of them yet that ever told the police anything. No, Shauneen,” she laughed, “’twas the high hill I shot at, but I’m thinking that the shot struck. We’ll watch.”
We crossed the street and waited in the shadow of the house at the corner. For a little while all was quiet at Kleiner’s. Then I saw the tall man come out with Joe Krebs’s uncle. After a time my father came out with Mr. Winngart and Mr. Carey. They walked to the other (Pg 230) corner and stood there a moment before they separated.
“Shall we go home now?” I asked my grandmother after I had told her what I had seen.
“Not yet,” she said. “I’ve one more errand to do this night.”
I thought it might have something to do with the tall man who’d spoken to me or with the telephone call, and I wondered when she sighed. “I’m a very old woman,” she seemed to be saying to herself. “I’ll be ninety-one years come Michaelmas Day. Some of the world I’ve seen, and much of life. Out of it all I’ve brought but a few things. I’d thought to give these to my son. But—” She paused. “How old are you, Shauneen?” she asked me.
“Fourteen,” I said.
“Old enough,” she nodded. She turned her head as if she were looking for something or someone. Then: “Do you know your way to the Battery?” she asked me.
“Sure,” I told her. “Are you going there?”
It had been quiet enough in our part of town. It was quieter yet when we came to Bowling Green and walked across to the Battery. Down there, past the high buildings and the warehouses, we seemed to have come into the heart of a hush. To the north of us the sky was afire with the golden glow from the uptown lights. In front of us ran the East River and the North River. Out on Bedloe’s Island I could see the shining of the Goddess of Liberty’s torch. Every little while a ferry-boat, all yellow with lights, would shoot out on the water. A sailing-vessel moved slowly after its puffing tug. The little oyster-boats were coming in from the bay. A steamer glided along past it as I walked with my grandmother out toward the old Castle Garden.
On the Saturday before Joe Carey and I had come down to the piers, prowling all afternoon on the docks, watching the men bringing in the queer crates and boxes and bags while we told each other of the places from where the fruits and spices and coffee and wines had come. There were thousands and thousands of ships out there in the dark, I knew, and I began to tell my grandmother what some of the sailors had told us of how the trade of the world was crowding into New York, with the ships all pressing the docks for room.
“If you could only see it!” I said to her.
“I can see more than that,” she said. Then: “Take me to the edge of the waters,” she bade me.
Wondering and a little frightened, obeyed her, trying to solve the while the mystery of her whim to bring me to the deserted park in the middle of the night.
“Is Castle Garden over there?” she pointed. “Then, I’ve my bearings now.”
She stood alone, a little way off from me, staring seaward as if she counted the shadowy ships. The wind blew her thin white hair from under her bonnet and raised the folds of her shawl. There in the lateness of the night, alone at the edge of the Battery, she didn’t seem to be my grandmother at all, but some stranger. I remembered the story I’d read somewhere of an old woman who’d brought a pile of books to a King of Rome, books that she threw away, one by one, as he refused them, until there was but one book left. When he’d bought that one from her he’d found that it was the book of the future of the empire and that he’d lost all the rest through his folly. As I looked at my grandmother I thought she must be like the old woman of the story. Even her voice sounded strange and deep when she turned to me.
“It was sixty-five years ago the seventh of November that I first stood on this soil,” she said. “‘Tis a long lifetime, and, thank God, a useful one I’ve had. Burdens I’ve had, but never did I lack the strength to bear them. Looking back, I’m sorry for many a word and many a deed, but I’ve never sorrowed that I came here.”
I would have thought that she had forgotten me if she hadn’t touched my arm. “You’ve heard tell of the famine, Shauneen,” she went on, “the great famine that fell on Ireland, blighting even the potatoes in the ground? We’d a little place in Connaught then, a bit of land my father was tilling. We hadn’t much, even for the place, but we were happy enough, God knows, with our singing and dancing and the fairs and the patterns. Then, little by little, we grew poorer and poorer. I was the oldest of the seven of us. My (pg 231) Mother and myself’d be planning and scraping to find food for the rest of them. Everyday we’d see them growing thinner and thinner. Oh, mavrone, the pity of it! And they looking at us betimes as if we were cheating them of their bit of a sup! Sometimes now in the dark I see them come to my bed, with their soft eyes begging for bread, and we having naught to give them. Brigid—she was the youngest of them all—died. Then my father went.
“I used to go down to the sea and hunt the wrack for bits of food. There by the shore I would look over here to America and pray, day after day, that the Lord would send to us some help before my mother should go. You don’t know what it is to pray, Shauneen. Your father cannot teach you and your mother hopes you’ll never learn. For prayer is born in agony, avick (my son), and grief and loss and sorrow. But because you are the son of my soul I pray for you that life may teach you prayer. For when you come to the end of the road, Shauneen, you’ll know that ’tis not the smoothness of the way, but the height of it and the depth of it, that measures your travelling. Far, far down in the depths I went when I prayed over there on the bleak coast of Connaught.
“God answered my prayer. There came from America food to us. There came, too, the chance for me to come here with the promise of work to do. ‘Twas a drear day when I left home. How I cursed England as I looked back on the hills of Cork harbor, all green and smiling as if never a blight had cast its shadow behind them!
“‘Twas a long, dreary sailing. Nine weeks we were in the crossing. A lifetime I thought it was between the day I looked on the western sea from the Connaught mountains and the day when I stood here looking back toward home. Sure life is full of lifetimes like those.”
She paused a moment, but I felt as if I were under a spell that I must not break by word of mine. A cloud came over the moon and all around us grew shadowy. The big throb that the city always beats at night kept sounding like the thrumming of an orchestra waiting for the violin solo to start.
“I’d plenty of them before many years.” My grandmother’s voice came like the sound for which the thrumming had waited. “Did you ever think what it means to the poor souls who come here alone for their living? When you’ve a house of your own, Shauneen, with men servants and maid servants, don’t forget that your father’s mother worked out for someone. They were kind people, too, who took me to their homes. Don’t forget that either. For ’tis my first memory of America. Kind they were, and just. They helped me save what I earned and they showed me ways of helping my folks at home. I’d brought out Danny and James and Ellen and Mary before the war. I met each one of them right here at Castle Garden. That’s why I always think of this place as the gateway through which the Irish have come to America. Sure Ellis Island’s been for the Italians and the Jews and the Greeks. We didn’t wait outside the door. We came straight in,” she chuckled.
“My mother wouldn’t come from the old place. Long I grieved over her there in the little house where my father and Brigid had died, but after a while I knew she was happier so. Sometimes, Shauneen, I think of Ireland as an old woman, like my mother, sitting home alone in the old places, grieving, mourning, with her children out over the world, living the dreams of her nights by the fire. ‘Twas here we found the freedom the Irish had been fighting for. ‘Twas here, away from landlords and landholding, away from famine and persecution, that we found that life need not be a thing of sorrow. ‘Twas here I met your grandfather.
“I’d nothing of my own, and your grandfather had but a trifle more when we married. I suppose ’tis brave that people would call us now. We didn’t think that we were. We were young and strong and we loved each other. And we were getting along fairly well—we’d started the payments on a bit of a house of our own after your father was born— when the war came down on us.
“Your grandfather went with the brigade. Not twice did we think whether or not he should go. We knew that he owed his first duty to the country that (pg 232)had called him, and sheltered him, and given him work and hope and freedom. For he was a boy from home as I was a girl from home. I stood on the curbstone the day he marched by, with your father in my arms, and I cheered for the flag. ‘Sure he’ll be walking to meet you when you come back!’ I called, lifting up the child. Your grandfather never came back. He fell at Marye’s Heights.”
When she spoke again her voice had changed more to her every-day tone. “Well, I raised your father,” she said, “and I thought I was raising him well. My arms were strong. I worked at the wash-tub morning, noon, and night. It wasn’t long till I had a laundry of my own. I thought to give my son all that I’d ever wanted for myself. Perhaps that was where I made my mistake. I thought too much of the things that money can buy in those years when money was so hard to earn. Perhaps ’twas myself and no other who taught your father the cold, hard things of life, though, God knows, I’d no thought to do it. He’s a good man in many ways, but he’s not the man I want you to be. He’s a good hater but he’s not a good lover. And, faith, what’s there in life but love?”
I moved a little then, and my grandmother swung me around, with her two hands on my shoulders, and, blind as she is, stared at me as if she were looking right down into my heart. “Shauneen,” she said, “I have prayed, day and night, that your father might be to America the good citizen his father was. I have prayed that if America should ever need him he would stand ready for her call. I have prayed that he’d love America as I have loved America. I love Ireland, mavrone. Always in my heart do I see her hills as they looked on the morning I looked back on them from the sea. But I love America, too, and I wanted my son to love her even more than I do. I’ve wanted him to love this land as my fathers and their fathers loved Ireland. ‘Twas not that I wanted him to forget my land; when he was a lad like you, I’d tell him tales of Ireland’s glory and of Ireland’s woe. How was I to know that all it would do for him was to rouse the black hate for England? I taught him love for Ireland, but never did I teach him to set my land above his own.
“For ’twas America gave us our chance, Shauneen, when we’d no other place on earth to seek. Hard days we’ve known here, too, days when even the children jeered at us, but we’ve never felt the hand of the oppressor upon us since we touched our feet on these shores. We’ve been free and we’ve prospered. Fine houses we have and fine clothes; and ’tis a long day since I knew the pinch of hunger. This is our debt. Tell me again, Shauneen, what you see out there?”
I told her of the shining lights, of the funnels of the steamers, of the piled piers, of the little oyster-boats, of the great liners waiting the word for their sailing.
“‘Twould be a fine sight,” she sighed. “Do you think me a madwoman to bring you here?” she went on, as if she had read my thought. “Perhaps I am that. Perhaps I’m not. For you’ll remember this night when you’ve forgotten many another time, just as I remember the day when my mother took me to the shrine at Knock. For this is the shrine of your country, Shauneen, this old Castle Garden, where your people set foot in the land that’s given them liberty. Here it was that I told my brothers and my sisters of the future before them. Here it is that I’m telling you that your country will be the greatest nation of all the world if only you lads stay true to her. That’s why I’ve brought you here to-night, Shauneen. I’m an old, old woman. I’ve not long for this earth. But I’ve this message for you; it’s yours; this duty that your father shirks when he plots with black traitors who’d drag us into wars that are not of our choosing. Raise your hand, Shauneen. Say after me: ‘As long as I live, God helping me, I shall keep my country first in my heart and, after God, first in my soul!”
Through the misty moonlight there came to me the memory of my mother’s plea at the door of the church, my mother’s cry: “Promise me that you’ll set no cause but God’s before your wife!” Some battle of spirit struggled within me. For an instant I was silent. Then, suddenly, as if the moon had ridden above the cloud, I saw the right. “Since all (pg 233) true causes come from God, it is right to set my own country above anything else that may ever come. I said the words after my grandmother. She took my face between her hands and kissed me. “God keep you, Shauneen, for the woman who’ll love you, and the children you’ll teach, come.” Then through a sleeping city my grandmother and I went home.
There’s a lot to absorb and process in this story, but I wanted to share it with you first.
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you and get a bit of discussion going.
Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share and wishing you all a very Happy Valentine’s Day whatever that might mean to you. Apparently, roses are very inflated this year so I think Geoff and I will be lucky to exchange a box of chocolates. or, more likely, there’ll just be one to share and unless we go dark, the kids will tuck into them as well. Not that we don’t wish them a Happy Valentine’s Day, of course. It’s just that there are somethings you like to keep to yourself, and top of my list is chocolate!
It has been an interesting and stressful week here, but I am starting to see some progress. The kitchen table is clear, and it won’t take much to clear the couch and I actually ironed my daughter’s school uniform for the first time since she started kindergarten I suspect. We bought a couple of extra shirts and even after washing them, they were still creased from the packaging. So, a rare event occurred. I pulled out the iron. I’m not a believer in ironing, and I’ think I’ve probably only ironed a Scout shirt once in the last two years thanks to covid, associated lockdowns and becoming an endangered species. However, ironing felt strangely therapeutic. There are so many problems were can’t ort out in life, but we can pull out the iron and make those creases go away. If only we could take an iron to ourselves and magically sort ourselves out like that. Wouldn’t it be nice?!! That said, as much as I say I long for perfection and get it all sorted, I am fundamentally an erratic creative person and chasing the rabbit is much more interesting than having the perfect house.
Speaking of chasing the rabbit, I did some serious rabbit chasing this week and found myself hooning around County Clare, Ireland via Google Earth. Along the way, I stumbled into the village of Carriagaholt, in West Clare which is located on the Moyarta River where it flows into the expansive Shannon Estuary. This was the very first Irish village I have ever seen, and I’m sure I was spoilt because it was absolutely breathtakingly magical. Days later, I’m still fixed on the gorgeous white house with hearts painted on a red door. Of course, it’s great to see a house dedicated to love and goodwill. However, what really touched me about this house was it’s authentic rustic charm. It wasn’t polished, commercial or fake but that love feels real and genuine. I feel I could knock on their door, and I would be heard. To be honest, I hope my friends and family know they can knock on my door literally and figuratively speaking, even if it’s a bit hard during covid. I want to be that approachable person, and not the one who slams the door in your face, although I know I don’t always get it right and it happens. Moreover, we can’t leave out door open to everyone. A friend to all, is friend to none. We all need our inner sanctum and to preserve and nurture that.
Anyway, I really loved pottering around Carrigaholt, and I stopped into a few pubs and loved hearing some traditional Irish music including a real Irish singalong. Oh golly. Have I been missing out! I also had a cooking lesson on how to cook mussels and I’m very tempted to head down to the local fish market and have a go myself.
By the way, I should mention that my Great Great Grandfather, Edward Quealey/Quailey came from the Carrigaholt region and his family were farmers there. He emigrated to New Zealand where he married his wife, Margaret O’Neill, around 1880 and they arrived in Sydney a few years later and had seven children.
I’ve also got back to playing my violin again after almost a two year absence, as well as getting some time in on the keyboard. My violin must’ve been in a good mood, because it usually has rather acute separation anxiety and can’t bare to be neglected for more than a couple of days without throwing a stinker. However, I didn’t sound too bad. Barely a screech! Now, there’s something to be thankful for.
That wasn’t the only thing. My friend’s dog almost died this week and somehow received a miraculous reprieve. I will come back and write more about that later after I’ve performed my afternoon taxi duties.
I hope you and yours have had a great week and look forward to hearing what you’ve been up to.
You can call me “bonkers”, “insane”, “weird” for heading off on another Virtual Adventure via Google Earth, but I don’t care. I’m “creative”. Moreover, after making a concerted effort to change and overhaul myself on the weekend, I’ve actually concluded that more people should embrace their dormant creativity, instead of supressing it beneath a veneer of glorified efficiency. That’s right. Let it all hang out.
There I was trying to get “alles ist in Ordnung” (everything is in order) when I cut my finger and found myself shut in a treatment room for three hours at the hospital. Of course, this was the very embodiment of Ordnung what with perfect white walls, no pictures, and not even a piece of paper, let alone a desk full of paperwork all out of place. Humph. That was a stark warning to be careful what you wish for!
Anyway, let’s just say I needed to unwind after the trip to the hospital, and after enjoying my recent virtual explorations of Cork City, I set out again. This time I decided to visit Lisheenfurroor near Carrigaholt in West Clare, where my Great Great Grandfather, Edward Quealy (1843-1917) was born.
It was a totally random idea, and I had no idea what to expect. I never do. Google Earth just drops you off somewhere in your intended destination like a body thrown out of a speeding gangstermobile. Once you’ve come to your senses, you need to get your bearings, work out what’s what, and which way to turn. It turned out there was a lot of green grass in Lisheenfurroor, and so I kept walking, walking, walking tracking along the edge of some body of water until I stumbled across the enchanting village of Carrigaholt, and I was smitten.
Stumbling across Carrigaholt was particularly exciting. While it’s always interesting to finally see something familiar in person for the first time, it’s quite something else to follow where the wind and the road take you, and stumble across somewhere entirely unknown (at least to yourself!) and make a FIND!!! Indeed, I wish I could dig out my old backpack, and head straight over there now, although I might take our Summer with me. While it’s a hot and sunny 28°C here and perfect beach weather, it’s a bitterly cold 8°C in Carrigaholt today. That’s enough to put your average Aussie into immediate shock and hibernation.
As I said, I first came to Carrigaholt via Doonaha travelling mostly through farmland dotted with a few houses. My eyes lit up when I spotted a village ahead, and what turns out to be Carrigaholt Bay on my left. A blue fishing boat is moored there, and I have no idea whether it was just parked there for that brief moment in time, or whether it’s a more permanent fixture. However, for me it’s just as much a part of Carriagaholt as Keane’s across the road.
I cross over the Moyarta River (which flows into the estuary of the famed River Shannon) here via a quaint stone bridge with hanging baskets of flowers (such a lovely touch!). Although I was traveling via Google Earth and depending on someone’s questionable photographic skills, they did manage to capture the reflection of the sky on the river, and I felt a strange sense of satisfaction capturing it myself (even if photographing a place via Google Earth is a bit desperate!!).
Coming to the intersection, briefly take a turn to your left to fully appreciate the local post office, which looks like it’s straight out of a fairy story to me with an assortment of brightly-coloured chairs out the front. It puts our local post office to shame, and I can’t help wondering if Postman Pat works there…
By the way, I’ve just spotted something which yours truly with no sense of direction would appreciate in one sense, but totally struggle to make sense of…a map.
Then, across in the distance, is Carrigahalt Castle. I am told: “This five storey tower house was built in about 1480 by the MacMahons, the chiefs of West Corkavaskin on the Loop Head peninsula. The castle, which offers commanding views of the Shannon Estuary, has quite a turbulent history. It was occupied by Teige Caech “the short sighted” McMahon in September 1588 when seven ships from the Spanish Armada anchored in the estuary. Even though the MacMahons offered no aid to the Spanish the tower house was unsuccessfully besieged by the Sir Conyers Clifford, the Governor of Connacht. The following year the castle was captured by the Earl of Thomond, Donagh O’Brien.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like I can get any closer via Google maps,, although photos abound on the Internet. This is as good as it gets, and going to the castle isn’t part of my journey.
Despite missing out on the castle, I’m already charmed by this place. It’s the first Irish village I have ever seen, and it doesn’t really matter that my first impressions aren’t in person. Our Australian borders have been closed for almost two years and as a parent with kids and health and budget restraints, getting there in person hasn’t been a possibility anyway. So, I am totally excited to be doing this, and I’m imagining all these people behind closed doors with accents like my favourite Irish actor James Nesbitt (even though as I just found out he’s from Northern Ireland and has a different accent entirely).
In this brief time, my heart is already fluttering. I can barely contain my excitement as I come across a heartwarming and unique character village. I love a bit of colour, and Max Bites with its canary yellow walls and red doors was like a magnet. I believe it sells takeaway food, and that’s where the downside of travelling via Google maps truly sets in. I’m currently nibbling on an Arnott’s Scotch Finger Biscuit with a cup of decaf tea, while the dog has migrated from my lap to sit on my husband’s feet.
A few doors down and a rustic stone wall leads to a captivating and intriguing pale yellow cottage with mauve doors with some kind of decorative wreath. Even more intriguing, mysterious Gaelic words adorn the walls, and I’m convinced fairies must be living inside. In a way it seems a shame to resort to an online Gaelic to English dictionary to demystify their cryptic code. However, my insatiable curiosity and nosiness proves too much. I have to know.
Although it’s tempting to cross the road, please hold your horses and bear with me just a bit longer. You won’t be disappointed. There’s another beautiful cottage, which I’ve simply called “Heart Cottage” where the door and window shutters have been painted red, with a white heart. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this could be our centre of government?! A place where love rules the world? It all seems so simple to me. So, why is there so much hate, disagreement and exclusion? Humph! Instead of going green, it seems I’ve put on my rose-coloured glasses since arriving in Carrigaholt, and I’m not taking them off any time soon. I’m living the dream.
Okay, so now we’re going to cross the road, and doing a bit of a U-turn. Our first stop is Carmody’s Bar. Their FB page says: “Carmody’s Bar is a family run bar that has been in the family for well over 150 years, (which means it was here when my Edward Quealey left about 1881). We are known for regular traditional Irish music sessions and sing songs. Great Guinness, friendly customers and a great welcome for everyone.” Here’s a taste of what we’re missing out on:
Before I head off, here’s a few more pics around Carrigaholt before I head off:
So, now I’m pining for Irish music and a bowl full of freshly cooked mussels and some way of beaming myself up to Carrigaholt. I am going to post this on their Facebook page and hope to connect. So, might I encourage you to come back to see how the comments evolve.
Meanwhile, there’s so much to love back here at home. I enjoyed a lovely walk along the beach and chatting with my friend who is the local lifeguard. Our daughters met when they were babies at playgroup and have been best friends through high school together.
Things could be worse!
If you live in or near Carrigaholt, I would love to hear from you or from anyone who has been there on their travels.
How you could you all just let me loose in Cork City on my “Pat Malone” without so much as a map or a point of the hand about where I should be heading?!! Just as well I was only travelling via Google Earth. Well, that’s me and Zac the dog who is always plastered across my lap and under my keyboard which, I guess, means he’s coming along for the walk along with me. Heaven help us if we come across another dog on our travels. He’s not very good with his own (aside from Lady and Rosie, of course!)
As I’ve no doubt mentioned before, I have a hopeless sense of direction. Indeed, my sense of direction is so bad, that I have to call it misdirection. I have an innate sense which takes me usually the opposite direction, and just get me to try and explain how to get somewhere. It’s not rocket science, but could you imagine what it would have been like if those blessed astronauts got lost on the way to the moon? Yes, that’s why I wasn’t in charge (along with a slight difficulty of not being born yet, but why let that get in my way?!!)
MY 4 x Great Grandfather, John Curtin, comes from Evergreen in Cork City. Last week, we visited Evergreen Road, but this week we’re going for a brief stroll beside the River Lee and by the Church and then off to Evergreen Street.
Meanwhile, I haven’t got much further in my efforts to find the Irish family of John Curtin. I even consulted the oracle from the Curtin Clan and there have been no developments since we last spoke. My best bet is DNA testing but you need to be a male to trace the patriarchal line. That gives you a good idea about the challenges I’m facing. Maybe, it’s time to give up on this lot and take up cryptic crosswords instead!!!
However, I did enjoy my stroll through Cork City. I don’t know where people usually go when they visit Cork City. However, they probably don’t go on doorscursion through the back streets like this. Most of us don’t have that luxury when we’re travelling. We’re paying for accommodation. We’ve taken time off work. Travelling is anything but a holiday. Wandering like this via Google Earth is actually very relaxing, and I know I’d be physically exhausted covering so much ground in person. Unfortunately, there’s no step counter on Google Earth (or if there is, I don’t know about it.) So, I can’t actually tell you how far I’ve been.
Anyway, as it stood, no one opened the door and said “I hear your looking for the the Thomas and Mary Curtins”. However, they didn’t say they weren’t there either.
Meanwhile, I’m gathering stories of Curtins who well let’s just say “lived interesting lives” through Ireland’s turbulent past. Most notably there was Tomás Mac Curtain (20 March 1884 – 20 March 1920) who was a Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork, On 20 March 1920, his 36th birthday, Mac Curtain was shot dead in front of his wife and son by a group of men with blackened faces, who were found to be members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) by the official inquest. We also had a John Curtin as our 14th Australian Prime Minister (8 January 1885 – 5 July 1945). It doesn’t look like we’re closely related to either of these men, but surely we must be related to someone somewhere, especially when they had such big families!! (Well, at least I have Irish connections on other sides of my family which aren’t so difficult to trace as these elusive Curtins).
However, to be perfectly honest about what I’m really doing in the real world, I’m trying to get into the swing of the new school year which actually involved going to real school and not going to school at the beach instead of online. The last couple of years have been rough, but returning so brutally back to normal isn’t kind either and I’m feeling like staging a one woman protest: “Do I really have to get out of my pyjamas?”
One of the most distinctive buildings in the centre of Cork city is situated at the junction of Saint Patrick’s Street and Daunt’s Square. This building now houses MacDonald’s. However, for over a century it was home to Woodford, Bourne & Co. grocers and wine merchants, which goes back to a firm of wine merchants named Maziere and Sainthill which was trading in Cork as early as 1750.
It’s been awhile since I’ve contributed to Thursday Doors. Having been in and out of lockdown and keeping a low profile due to my vulnerable health status, I’ve been heading out into nature for my walks rather than places that have doors. However, I also have flirtations with Google Earth and go wondering overseas.
This week, I went to Cork City, Ireland. It’s home to the Curtin side of my rather expansive gene pool, and went wandering along Evergreen Road. While this isn’t where most people head when they travel to Ireland, especially for the first time, it had special significance for me. When my 4 x Great Grandfather was buried, it mentioned that he was a “Native of Evergreen, Cork” on his tombstone. While I’m still not entirely sure what that meant, there is an Evergreen Road and an Evergreen Street, and a few Curtins who lived there over the years. However, just to annoy me, I’ve found no sign of him or his parents living there.
If you have had anything to do with family history and I am what would be classed as an obsessive addict, you would know that there are those ancestors who are very upfront, share all their secrets and are an open book. On the other hand, there are others where you’re pulling teeth just to get the very basics out of them. I understand that, and that even the dead might want their privacy. However, that doesn’t stop me from trying, or from being disappointed when I hit another brick wall. I have an insatiable curiosity.
As it’s turned out, some of the most elusive characters have given up their secrets in time, and that includes John Curtin. He was baptized on the 1st July, 1831 in the Parish of St Finbarr’s, City of Cork, County Cork, Ireland. HIs parents were Mary Scannell and Thomas Curtin, who was a Stevedore according to John’s death certificate. It took me about 30 years to finally find the ship which brought John Curtin out to Australia. He’d worked his passage over as a Able Seaman on board the Scotia, arriving in Sydney on the 4th April, 1854. We don’t have any photos of John Curtin. However, the other day, I stumbled across a physical description in the newspaper while looking for someone else. As you could well imagine, this physical description wasn’t there to praise his physical prowess. Yes, indeed. He was a wanted man, and this description appeared in the New South Wales Police Gazette and Weekly Record of Crime a list of deserting husbands on Wednesday 7 April 1880:
“Deserting Wives and Families, Service, &c.
Sydney.—A warrant has been issued by the Water Police Bench for the arrest of John Curtin, charged with disobeying a Magisterial order for the support of his wife, Bridget. Curtin is about 50 years of age, 5 feet 7 or 8 inches high, fresh complexion, brown hair, short brown whiskers and moustache, shaved on chin ; dressed in dark tweed trousers and vest, and black cloth sac coat ; a blacksmith.”
This was followed up by this notice in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday 17 April 1880:
“John Curtin, 50, for neglecting to pay to the officer in charge of No. 3 station the sum of £8 15s., due on an order of court for the support of his wife, was committed to gaol until the order should be complied with.”
The timing of his disappearance wasn’t great. On the 12th March 1880, Elizabeth Curtin the wife of their eldest son John Thomas, had passed away leaving three children. Three days later, on the 15th March, their eight month old daughter, Mary Ann, was admitted to the Benevolent Asylum where she died on the 13th December, 1880. John and Bridget had also lost a two year old son the year before. Clearly, these were hard times, which perhaps begs the question: would they have been better off back in Ireland? Did they ever consider going back?
Anyway, this brings me back to Evergreen Road in County Cork and 2022. I’d had a peek through Cork before and wasn’t surprised that it felt familiar was quite similar to Sydney’s Paddington and Surry Hills. Yet, it’s different and besides, I’m only talking about one street, and a small section at that. It’s hardly representative. Further explorations and clearly required.
By the way, while I was rambling along, I stumbled across the Evergreen Bar at 34 Evergreen Road, Turners Cross. Of course, I had to wonder whether it was around in John Curtin’s time, and indeed whether it might’ve been his “local”. If so, was he singing along to Irish music in there way back then? What would those walls say about him if only they could speak? However, my imaginative wanderings were cut brutally short when I found out the Evergreen Bar has been closed and is now being turning into housing. Oh! Woe is me!! It would’ve been nice to go there in person one day and simply wonder where John Curtin had been.
Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a link to an Irish band, the Sea Captains, who had played at the Evergreen:
Over the last couple of days, I’ve found myself caught in the ultimate avoidance device -the Never-ending O’Sullivan Maze.
Well, you might ask where and what on earth this is. If you’re looking for a physical address, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Hang on. There are actually physical addresses after all, but what this maze is referring to is nutting out my O’Sullivan family history and entering all these people into an online community at Wikitree. This is a free online database, which allows me to document and share my research and connect up with cousins without feeding the Ancestry machine. I am a great fan of the “free economy”.
Before I get stuck into the whys of the O’Sullivan Maze, I thought I’d launch off with the whats (or is it the whos?) Actually, it is a who. Who were the O’Sullivans? Next question: why do they matter?
Some would argue that they’re rather random and remote ancestors of mine. Although I don’t mention it very often on the blog, my surname is Curtin, although I’m actually known more by my married name, although I’ve only half-changed the legal documentation after 20 years of marriage. To reach the O’Sullivans, we need to go via the Curtins.
The story begins with John Curtin, who was my first Curtin ancestor to arrive in Australia. He was baptized on the 1st July, 1831 in the Parish of St Finbarr’s, City of Cork County Cork, the fourth child of Thomas Curtin a stevedore on Cork Harbour and Mary Scannell. On the 5th December, 1853 he sailed out of Liverpool as an Able Seaman on board The Scotia, and arrived in Sydney on the 2nd April, 1854.
On 5th September, 1855 John Curtin married Bridget O’Sullivan at the more humble, original St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney . John was aged 22 and Bridget was around 19 years old.
Bridget O’Sullivan was born around January, 1834 in Mallow, County Cork, Ireland to Daniel O’Sullivan and Mary Egan. They were living at Jones Lane, Mallow when she was baptised on the 20th January, 1834 by Father DM Collins who went on to become part of a delegation of Irish priests to lobby the English government for support during An Gorta Mor or the Great Hunger. Her sponsors were Edward Foley and Johanna Leary. Bridget had two younger sisters, Catherine and Mary Ann. The O’Sullivans sailed out of Plymouth on the 6th July, 1851 arriving in Sydney on the 8th October, 1851. Shipping records state Daniel O’Sullivan’s occupation as Farmer’s Labourer and Mary Ann was a dairywoman. Bridget was 15 years old. She could read and write and worked as a General Servant.
The O’Sullivans didn’t just come out to Australia because they had nothing better to do. Rather, there were probably two forces at work. Firstly, there was the An Gorta Mór (The Great Hunger or “Irish Famine”) 1845-1852, and the discovery of gold at Bathurst, NSW on the 12th February, 1851. When you put those two forces together, it was a no brainer. Moreover, Daniel’s brother David O’Sullivan, and Mary’s brother, Denis Egan, were already out here, and had paved the way.
That was how the O’Sullivan maze through Sydney’s Surry Hills and Paddington began. Around 1890, Daniel O’Sullivan’s brother, Denis and his wife Hanorah Cahill arrived in Sydney with their four children and youngest son, John Paul, was born in Sydney after they’d arrived. Their daughter Catherine Agatha married Thomas Edward Augustine Plasto on the 24th May, 1879 Sacred Heart Church, Randwick. They had six children before she died on the 25th November, 1891 and her husband went on to have an additional eleven children with his second wife. Fortunately, however, they’re not part of this maze, and the Plasto children were just the tip of the iceberg.
Anyway, before Denis and his family arrived on the scene, we had Bridget who had married John Curtin, and they had nine children. Before you start thinking they bred like rabbits populating Surry Hills, Paddington and beyond; three of their children died as infants.
Meanwhile, Bridget had her two sisters living nearby and I guess this is where I’m heading with this story…a story of three Irish sisters arriving in Surry Hills and the various ups and downs they and their descendants experienced. However, before I can really delve too much into the story, there’s the scaffolding of the actual family history and how these Irish families in Surry Hills and Paddington intermingled both genetically in families and as community. That’s what mathematicians refer to as the “working out”. You always need to be able to show your working out (if even if it’s as tedious and boring as those genealogical passages in the Bible.) You can’t just go from A to Z without being able to show how you got there.
I have no sisters. I don’t have any idea of what it is to have a sister, and I’m barely in touch with my brother. I don’t want to idealise these relationships or create a closeness that wasn’t there. After all, perhaps these sisters had some intractable falling out and while they almost lived on opposite street corners, perhaps the emotional distance was an impenetrable void.
That’s the trouble with writing non-fiction especially using real people with real names. Ideally, you somehow manage to walk in their shoes rather than turning them into a reproduction of yourself. Placing your stamp on their forehead. That is something I take rather seriously, and to be honest my efforts to reach the truth more often than not prevents me from writing anything at all.
Anyway, that’s not what I’m doing now. I’m transferring my who begat whom into this Wiki genealogy thing online. I don’t know why I started doing this. Well, I sort of do. I was talking to a friend and discovered a mutual connection via the Spora family and I was trying to nut it out. Bridget O’Sullivan’s niece, Johanna Maria Murphy, had married Gaetana “Frank” Spora and they’d had eight children. Three of their sons headed out to Rylstone near Orange taking the family out West. It’s interesting to see where all these various branches of our family tree headed of to.
As it turns out, our family also sounds like a roll call of Irish Australia: Curtin, O’Sullivan, McNamara, Murphy, Donovan, Maguire, Quealy, O’Neil. They lived on Crown, Fitzroy, Albion, Arthur, Campbell and Ann Streets Surry Hills and also in Paddington and Woollahra. My grandparents made the radical move of crossing over the Sydney Habour Bridge after they got married in 1940. They starting out in Mosman, and settled in Lindfield, a suburb which came to represent their house within the family. My father and most of his siblings married outside the Irish-Catholic fraternity, which could well be a good thing. I married Geoff from Tasmania, and even then my kids managed to gain an additional O’Sullivan to add to two from me. I am yet to find out if mine are related. However, the Great Great Grandfather from West Maitland was actually born in Albion Street Surry Hills and his mother was Mary Sullivan, daughter of John Sullivan and Mary Bourke also of Cork. Small world…!
Anyway, I blame the mad lunatic in me who is in self-imposed lockdown trying to avoid the covid menace for all of this. The official stats clocked up to a massive 45,098 cases today and the graph just keeps soaring straight up. It’s covid soup out there and our family is madly trying to prepare for the likelihood that someone is going to bring Covid home, and how we’re going to manage that seeming inevitability. I spent a few hours on Friday afternoon trying to access RATs (Rapid Antigen Tests). There’s been no mention ANYWHERE about making them available for people with disabilities and chronic health conditions. Trust me. I’ve looked. It’s like we don’t exist. Physically I can’t queue for half an hour let alone 4-5 hours, and if I don’t have it, I don’t want to catch it while I’m waiting either. We can’t take our kids to be tested either. Indeed, that is even more of a no-no. Perhaps, they’ll have to walk. Who knows? I could be reading books, going for walks, baking, playing my violin and yet for some mad reason, I started working on this. The only explanation I can come up with is escape. Pure escape. No one would ever think to find me here – corona virus included.
Do you have Irish heritage? Or perhaps you’re Irish yourself? Maybe you have noIrish blood whatsoever, but you’d still like to have a chat. You’re all welcome. The cricket ison the TV but I’m ignoring that, and I can offer you a cup of tea, some leftover gingerbread house, but it’s a bit more difficult to offer you a seat on the couch.
Pregnant, Alicja had flown from London to Kracow to consult her dead father. An intense man, he’d been a Polish fighter pilot in the famous Kosciusko 303 squadron. After years in exile, the iron curtain had lifted, and he’d died in his beloved Kracow. Thoroughly English, Alicja was a stranger here. Yet, despite longing to be plain “Alice”, she still held onto the Polish spelling.
Strolling through Main Square, she didn’t see the oncoming tram. However, an invisible force shoved her to safety.
Somehow, she would stay.
Yet, could she?
Four years ago, I met Roland in our local bookshop. His father was a Polish bomber plot in WWII, and he came from near Kracow which somehow managed to survive the war without being bombed to smithereens. I have been helping Roland research his father’s story and being in distant Australia, I decided to visit Kracow via Google Earth the other night. It was exquisite. Have you been there? It’s definitely on my bucket list. an interesting aspect to this research is that my Great Great grandmother was born in what went on to become Poland and she was till alive when my mum was a child. I looked up the village she came from some time ago, and didn’t relate to it at all. Meanwhile, I am hoping to find a bakery which makes Makowiec (Poppy Seed Roll). Or, I might have to try baking it myself. Soon, I’ll have to start calling myself Rowski!
Meanwhile, I have recently started a second blog, where I’m exploring English-Australian novelist Ethel Turner, who wrote the classic “Seven Little Australians”. However, so far I’ve been showcasing some of her other writing. Here’s the link:
So often when we reflect on Gallipoli, we hear of the men who sacrificed their lives. However, there’s another side to the story. That is the children of the dead and wounded men, also also paid an enormous, and mostly silent, price. Fortunately, the children’s columns in the newspapers provided a space where children would occasionally provide a glimpse, into this world.
On Sunday 30th July, 1922 a letter by Miss Brenda Taylor, aged 9, of Greenock, Piper-street, Leichhardt was published in Sunbeams, the children’s page in the Sun Herald. Sunbeams was edited by Ethel Turner, author of the Australian children’s classic: Seven Little Australians. A regular feature on the page was called “When I Grow Up”, and children wrote in gorgeous letters talking about what they wanted to be when they grew up. Brenda wanted to be a nurse:
“When I grow up I would like to be a nurse, so that I could look after poor sick people. If there happened to be another war I would go and look after the wounded soldiers. My daddy died of wounds at Gallipoli, where there were not enough nurses to look after the soldiers. I would love to wear the nice clean uniform of a nurse, and be in the children’s hospital amongst the little sick babies, as I love babies, and I don’t like to hear them crying. When I see the returned nurses with their badges I feel sure I am going to be one. I hope little girls will want to be the same so that there will be enough nurses for the poor soldiers if any more wars begin.
— Souvenir Prize and Blue “Sun” Card to Brenda Taylor (9), Greenock, Piper-street, Leichhardt — a little girl gallant enough, after her loss, to want to continue in the footsteps of her heroic father.”
Just to place young Brenda’s letter in context, there was also a letter from an ambitious crime-fighting detective:
TO MAKE CRIMINALS SHIVER
When I grow up I am going to be a detective, and gain fame, I will unravel mysteries that have baffled the greatest detectives of the world. If It is necessary for me to disguise while working on any case, my disguise shall be so complete that even my closest friends will not recognise me. First I will start In Australia, and when I’ve cleaned that of Its criminals, I will then proceed to London, and in disguise I will visit the slums of that city and learn what I can about different criminals, then gain their confidence, and arrest them in the act of pulling-off some of their greatest robberies. I will always play a lone hand, as you cannot rely on the police, who are generally blunderers. If any criminal defies me, I shall engage him In a battle of wits, and in the end I think I shall succeed in handing him over to the law to receive his punishment. Never shall I quit a case without unraveling it satisfactorily. Many people shall thank me for the services I have rendered them, and for me this will be sufficient reward. My name will spread throughout the world, and every criminal and wrong-doer will shiver at the mention of it.
There was also “Wanderer” from Bondi who’d decided to become a novelist rather than a pirate:
“NOVELIST RATHER THAN PIRATE
In the earlier stages of my life I entertained wild hopes of becoming a pirate; imagining myself, with a three-cornered hat tilted precariously on one side of my head, ordering men to get strung up the yard-arm, or to walk the plank. Lately, I have realised the utter insignificance of that career, as I will not be able to find a suitable crew, and if I did I would soon be hunted down. My present scheme for the future is to become a composer of prose and verse. I will live in a creeper-covered cottage in a quiet country town, there to pursue my work (perhaps I might marry by then, but that will not make any difference— only that the “star” boarder will have to seek a new residence). So as to have some varieties about the place, I will keep a few cows and a small stock of poultry. In the woodland dales I will compose my stories, and. now and then poetry. I hope to become gradually famous as a novelist. Then— and then only, will the zenith of my ambitions be attained— Blue “sun” Card to “Wanderer” (13), Bondi.”
Exploring Brenda Taylor’s Letter Further
Of course, young Brenda’s letter is heartbreaking. It was one thing for young, single men to sacrifice their lives for the Empire. It was quite another for family men with responsibilities and dependents to sacrifice theirs. Young children were left without fathers, wives without husbands, and were left to bring up the children alone. To put it in very simple terms, Daddy was never coming home.
Naturally, I wanted to find something out about her father’s war service, such as which unit he was in, and what happened to him. This is easy enough if you have a name. However, her father wasn’t named in the letter, and I couldn’t just search the service records for: “Brenda’s Dad”- no matter how powerful Google might be.
At the same, identifying a soldier with minimal information isn’t an impossible quest, especially now that so much information is available online. Indeed, these days, the difficulty is knowing when and where to stop. After all, we now have the whole wide world right at our finger tips and sometimes, as in trying to nut out Brenda’s letter, we need to draw on all of that. Even then, there comes a point when you realize, that you have to walk away without the answer. Indeed, that’s where I’m at with Brenda’s story. I still can’t be sure of who Brenda Taylor was, and don’t know her father’s name either. Yet, I haven’t given up. Storytelling is a collective process and hopefully these efforts will just be the beginning.
Yet, on the other hand, part of me wishes I could turn back the clock, and just appreciate Brenda Taylor’s letter at face value. Left well enough alone, and not asked who her father was, and tried to find his service records. After all, it’s such a heart-touching story. Here’s a little girl who lost her beloved Dad at Gallipoli when she was roughly two years old. That’s a serious loss, and I don’t feel comfortable questioning whether her story was true, and doubting the sincerity of a child. Of course, I want to be a believer. Hug this little girl who has lost her dad wholeheartedly without any of these lingering doubts.
However, any researcher worth their salt knows not to accept anything at face value. We have to ask the questions, accept the answers, and then somehow determine what we weave together into our version of the story.
So, despite a day of going backwards and forwards along time tunnels back into the past, I still don’t know the name of Brenda Taylor’s father, and can’t be entirely sure he died of wounds at Gallipoli or back at home.
A False Alarm
Initially, my efforts to identify Brenda Taylor were going quite well. NSW Births deaths and Marriages had a Brenda Beatrice Taylor born in 1915 in Mudgee to parents John G. Taylor and Beatrice Brownlow. They were married on the 17th February, 1910 at St. Paul’s Manse, Mudgee. This “G” might’ve been a “George”, and at a stretch, Brenda’s father might’ve been John George Taylor Service Number 7050. He was born at Newcastle-On-Tyne England, and was living at 2 Bay Street, Balmain, which isn’t too far from Leichhardt. However, he wasn’t a great fit. He’d enlisted on the 1st November, 1916 and clearly didn’t serve at Gallipoli. His next of kin was his sister, Mrs M. Foster, not a wife. There was also no mention of daughter, Brenda, either. However, marriages go awry, and he wouldn’t have been the only family man to have fled the home front for the front line without leaving a paper trail.
However, then I found the wedding notice for John G. Taylor and Beatrice Brownlow. Brenda’s father was actually a John Gavin Taylor, not a John George. So, that knocked John George Taylor 7050 out of the picture. Further research was required.
There was no other Brenda Taylor on the horizon, although the age of this Brenda Taylor didn’t quite match up. To be 9 years old on the 30th July, 1922, she needed to be born around 1911-1912. However, I couldn’t find an alternative born in NSW or Victoria. So, I persisted and found some good background stories.
Brenda’s mother, Beatrice Brownlow, had been born in 1889 to Samuel Brownlow and Agnes E. Bridge in Coonamble, New South Wales. Samuel was known as a “first-class horse trainer”, which sounded rather exciting:
A Veteran Trainer.
Sam Brownlow Re-appears on the Scene.
To the majority of Mudgee racegoers the name of the above well-known trainer will be quite familiar. The older sportsmen in particular will re member those grand old days when the then champions of the turf, such as King of the West, Eros, Myrtle, Reprieve, Prism, Contessa, &c. , met in battle array on the old course, and memories of Brownlow come back to them fresh and green. And now once more, after a fairly long absonce from the actual scene of turf warfare, Sam has come forth, like a giant refreshed, to renew his former occupation. The old spirit asserted itself — it was too strong for him to resist, and it is a strange coincidence that he will have under his care a horse which he trained a few years ago — I refer to Mr. J. C. Gunnell’s Nimrod. Sam has trained many good horses, notably King of the West, Myrtle, Eros, and Contessa, all of whom won races for the late J. D. Little at Randwick and Hawkesbury. When King of the West won the County Purse (now called the Rowley Mile) at Hawkesbury he was ridden by Tom Donoghue, who is now training in Mudgee. Brownlow once had private training stables on Bombira Hill years ago, where a good string of horses were located. He also went to Queensland with that great horse, Beadsman, with whom he won a great number of races there. Space will not permit of a lengthy description of our old friend’s many succeses as a trainer. We will simply say that he is a first class trainer, and has commenced with Mr. Gunnell’s horses, Nimrod and Grand Stuart, who are being prepared for the Mudgee meeting.
By now, the story was building nicely – layer up on layer up on layer. Yet, there were still some nagging doubts. These Taylors were based in Mudgee, and as yet I hadn’t found a link to Leichhardt, Sydney. Moreover, something else was glaringly missing. Aside from Brenda’s letter, there were no memorials in the newspapers honouring her father’s sacrifice on the battlefield, and this was unusual. Of course, there were families that kept it quiet, but they were few and far between. That also made me nervous.
Then, came the clincher. I came across the obituary for Brenda’s mother, Beatrice. She died on the 25th December, 1943 in Mudgee and it clearly mentioned that she was the “wife of Mr. J. G. Taylor, of Windeyer”, and also referred to her “bereaved husband”. Brenda’s father, John Gavin Taylor, was still alive.
Either Brenda Taylor’s letter wasn’t true. Or, there was another Brenda Taylor.
Brenda Taylor 2.0
I had one last search in the online newspapers at Trove. This time, I came across a wedding photo for a Brenda Taylor who married John Richard Keeffe at St John’s Church, Parramatta in 1938:
“Mrs. J.. Keeffe, formerly Miss Brenda Taylor, of Harris Park, who was married at St. John’s Church, Parramatta, on February 5. Misses Violet Keeffe, Ivy Taylor and Emily Keeffe are the bridesmaids, and Valmna Sweeney the flower girl. Photo. by McEnnally Studio”
I cross-referenced this with NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages, and found her listed as “Evelyn Brenda Taylor”. Would this finally be the clue which unraveled the mystery? Could I finally construct a solid trail from nine year old Brenda Taylor of Piper Street, Leichhardt to her father who really did die of wounds sustained in those early days at Gallipoli?
The closest I’ve come to finding an Evelyn Brenda Taylor is a Brenda Evelyn Taylor, who was listed in the 1911UK Census. She was 2 years old and was born and living in Rawreth, a village and civil parish in the District of Rochford, Essex, England, located between Wickford and Rayleigh. She was living there with her father, Edward Taylor, aged 23 born in Leatherhead, Surrey and was a Farm Labourer; and her mother, Alice May Taylor, was 21 from Chipstead, Surrey.
Could this be the right family? Did they migrate to Australia, and this is the very same Brenda Taylor who wrote into the Sun Herald on the 30th July, 1922?
I still don’t know, but I’m hoping that someone out there can help me set the record straight. I’d really love to know Brenda’s story – the whole story.
If anybody could shed any light on this, I’d really appreciate your help. I don’t have access to Ancestry which would most likely help.
Lastly, I should mention that this is fall of a broader project where I’m researching WWI through the letters of WWI soldiers, and exploring their family history nad lives before they went to the front.
 Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 30 July 1922, page 2
 Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 30 July 1922, page 2
 Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 30 July 1922, page 2
 Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (NSW : 1890 – 1954), Friday 4 August 1899, page 18
 Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (NSW : 1890 – 1954), Thursday 30 December 1943, page 5
 Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), Thursday 10 March 1938, page 9
My apologies. There are slim pickings on the baking front this week after a massive bake-a-thon on Tuesday. Since then, I’ve been trying to minimise the cooking with its inherent mess-making so I can make progress on the house and do some writing. I made a commitment to write in an extended journal this year, and my efforts have been intermittent, and we’re not even out of January yet. Then, when I do write, it takes hours and it looks like I’ll be through what is quite a thick A5 volume by the end of the month. I’ve been holding onto a lot of stuff, and I’m not sure whether it’s good to bring it all back up like this, or not. However, I should put a disclaimer in the front and clarify that this is where I deal with the dark stuff, and I’m actually reasonably okay. Or, at least I was before the teenager got stressed out, and took us on a panic with him. Of course, he rose back up to the surface straight away, but it’s taken us a bit longer.
The highlight of last week was my Great Aunt’s funeral. Not that we actually attended her funeral in person. Rather, because she lived in Brisbane over the Queensland border which is closed to people from Sydney due to covid, we had to watch it via livestream video link.
Now, I understand that this is now pretty much de rigeur with funerals nowadays, and perhaps you’ve already been there, done that. However, this was our first time, and there was a lot to consider. We’ve been to what we call “watch parties” on Zoom before where we’ve gone round to a friend’s place to watch a broadcast together in a small group. So, this gave me the idea of driving down to my parents’ place and watching it with them and my uncle to recreate some sense of the family coming together to celebrate my aunt’s life. It took a bit of talking round to get my Dad onboard and we soon delegated all technical matters to my husband who works in IT and I promised to bake, and Dad said he’d pick up dinner. Mum bought some exquisite white roses and equally beautiful dahlias from her exclusive florist. It was all supposed to go so smoothly, but of course, it didn’t. The derailment began when I couldn’t find my oufit in my cupboard and I ended up pulling everything out because I had to wear these new Italian linen culottes I’d bought recently, even though I wasn’t sure which top to wear and the top I’d had in mind was also missing somewhere at large in my wardrobe. From there it only went down hill where I couldn’t find the link to the funeral in my email via my phone and Geoff couldn’t connect his laptop to my parents’ wifi. So, even though the video cable was connecting to the TV, we ended up with all five of us hovering around Dad’s laptop. Each of us could barely see the screen and while there were buttons to operate different cameras, we weren’t game enough to touch anything and so the slide show of photos from my aunty’s life, appeared like a series of small postage stamps on the screen. At this point, Mum wanted to go and watch it on her own laptop where she could actually see something, but we couldn’t get it up and running in time. So, it was just as well I’d done all that baking and Dad had bought some great food, because we felt better after that. Food had brought us together is a way that technology had failed.
All of this would’ve been rather funny had it appeared in a comedy sketch. However, it was deeply disappointing when we were trying to grieve the loss of our much loved aunt, and that’s why I’ve shared our experiences with you and plan to write a more detailed post about watching a funeral online. If you want to do it in a group, you need to treat it like an event. You just can’t rock up and assume everything will go smoothly, especially when your emotions are already churned up.
After the funeral and my massive baking efforts on Tuesday, the rest of the week was fairly quiet. It’s been pretty hot, and too hot for me to go out at the peak of the day. My daughter, however, was more adventurous and warned me over the phone that she’d turned into a lobster at the beach.
Then, today I really felt the need to get out and my husband and I drove over to Patonga to go for a walk along the beach and rocks. Being a keen sailor, Geoff was keeping a keen eye out on passing yachts. They always epitomise freedom and escape to me, but I don’t understand the technical nitty gritties. It flies straight over my head as sure as any seagull. For me, it was great just to be outside again and to have that vast sense of almost endless space you have at the beach when you look out to see and there’s nothing but blue for a seeming eternity. I also needed some exercise…a walk…and when I was last in Patonga, I’d walked around the rocks and found some intriguing swirl patterns on the sandstone, which I wanted to check out and photograph again. It turned out that the rock platform also had these swirl patterns and I’ll have to look into them further. Intriguing…
By the way, I should’ve mentioned that Geoff was on holidays this week and still has another week of leave to go. It hasn’t really been very relaxing so far, as he’s been working on repairs at home. We had planning to go away to stay with family inland from Byron Bay, but we didn’t want to risk picking covid up on route and any of us getting sick. We tend to go up once a year, and we thought the timing could be better later in the year. –
This coming week, our kids (teens) are off to youth camp for a few days with Church and then our daughter is going off to a Young Carer’s camp at Camp Breakaway about an hour away from here. The break will do us all good. Our son is also helping out with sound at camp and also has two DJ slots and he’s really looking forward to that and takes it all very seriously. It’s very important to him, and he seems to be quite good and developing well. That’s a relief in itself because it’s not always easy for young people to find their thing. Now, we just have to hope covid gets lost and the entertainment industry can get back on its feet.
Well, it’s time for me to get 40 winks now, and head off to bed. How has your week been? I hope you and yours are being spared the worst of these dreadful Covid pandemic. Have you been vaccinated yet? How was it? The vaccine, is, of course, our big hope.