“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.
The Internet and our beloved Google has expanded our world’s in so many incredible ways, something we particularly appreciate as bloggers posting our writing online and not only sharing it with all sorts right around the world, but also have conversations and read their work as well and gain personal insights of what it is to be someone else and live somewhere else.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve dabbled in visiting places overseas via Google Earth. Just to remind you I live in Greater Sydney, Australia and there’s a lot of ocean in between where I want to go and also several continents. Not easy to get away for the desired length of time, and there’s the expense and then covid was added to the mix. However, as bad as covid’s been, it has opened up International communication online and being able to zoom in anywhere, tune into live stream, and then there’s Google Earth and that took on another dimension when I realized that I could take photos on my phone while on my travels, and they weren’t half bad. Of course, not on par with my Nikon SLR but mostly more than adequate.
The other interesting thing about traveling via Google Earth, is that you in effect get dumped somewhere in the vicinity of where you wanted to go, and have to come to and get your bearing. So, for someone like me who gets lost in the real world and can’t read a map, there’s been no magic fix traveling via Google Earth. The only difference is that I’m not getting worn out trudging back retracing my steps like I did in Amsterdam back in 1992, and I also had a 20 kilo pack on my back to complicate matters further. It truly is wonderful, particularly as my husband and I are close to still being in lockdown. We can go out. It’s people we need to stay away from. I won’t lie. As an extrovert, it’s tough but the alternative is sobering.
What took me on this journey from Cloyne to Midleton was very simple: How far is it from Cloyne to Midleton? My 4 x Great Grandmother, Bridget Donovan, was an Irish Famine Orphan, and there is mention of her being born in Midleton and Cloyne and I wanted to cover my bases.
By the way, I’ve mentioned Bridget before (including my last post). In essence, Bridget was plucked out of a cesspit of starvation, fever and certain death in Midleton Workhouse and given free passage and a trunk full of goodies to start a new life in Australia.
There is also a complicating twist to this story. Two maybe three of Bridget’s sons married Aboriginal women and some of their descendants were removed from their families in a process called the “Stolen Generation”. I know of at least one descendant who was placed in an institution called the Cootamundra Girls’ Home. So tragic. I am new to all of this, and the cultural nuances involved. There seem to be parallels in how the Irish and the Aboriginal people were treated by the English under colonialization, but the Irish also moved onto Aboriginal land. So, it gets messy and I’m descended from it all, and yet innocent of the actions of my forebears. However, I am trying to undo some of my own ignorance and find out a bit more, but it’s a process.
Meanwhile, we’re in Cloyne. It’s a village of about 1, 803 people and 350 houses (2016) and it’s a whole 7.7km from Midleton. So, really only a long stone throw away. In about 560 AD, Saint Colman mac Lenene (who died in 604) founded a monastery in Cloyne, and the round tower was constructed later, and dates back to around the 10th century, and is approximately 30m high and 16.25m around when measured about 1.5m above the ground. The stone in the tower is dark purple sandstone. Since then, a lightning strike in 1749 caused some damage to the top of the tower. I’ve also read that you used to be able to climb up to the top of the tower, but the state of disrepair and the threat of being sued have conspired to keep it out of bounds, which is such a shame as the view from the top would be incredible.
However, I had a bit of a false start when I first touched down in Cloyne. I landed on a roundabout in the middle of nowhere, and can’t help wondering whether the dog had fiddled with the coordinates. It happens, you know. So, I reset the dial. Phew. This time I’d landed right near Cloyne Tower.
Like something straight out of a fairy tale, of course I envisioned Bridget climbing up that metal ladder and up the wooden stairs to the top. Of course, she was just a little girl then with long, dark flowing hair and of course she ran all the way to the top with an energy I can only dream about now. It was also long before the Great Hunger ravaged Ireland, and transported her to the workhouse and ultimately Australia. Of course, this is a romantic view where she is always smiling, and laughing with her friends. There is no sorrow in this early vision. I want her to simply be a child. A child whose future isn’t darkened by looming shadows but is free, because she didn’t know what lay ahead, and neither do we.
I had a short walk around Cloyne, and managed to miss one of it’s main attractions – a monument to Christy Ring Christy Ring won eight All-Ireland senior hurling medals, nine Munster titles, four National Leagues and 18 inter provincial Railway Cup medals with Munster. However, I have to admit I don’t know much about hurling. So, that’s another aspect to my Irish heritage which has gone by the wayside, which isn’t so strange considering I’m Australian and in Monopoly parlance “just visiting”.
Anyway, I wasn’t planning to linger in Cloyne today, although the possibility of legally or illegally climbing up the tower is appealing. Rather, I’m here to get some sense of the drive from Cloyne to Midleton, and I was delighted to find River Road is the road which takes you out of Cloyne to Midleton. This River Road had been mentioned to me in one of those family history chat sites. Apparently, some of the Donovans were living there so this is a great find with something of an “X marks the spot” feel to it (except that I have no idea of where the actual x was, but it’s a darned sight closer than here.)
I follow this road through what appears to be a tunnel of trees and I’m just relishing all this lush green Irish foliage and never-ending rows of rustic stone walls.
Then, I reach a huge roundabout and I think I had to turn right to get into Midleton, but big roundabouts are no less confusing on Google Earth than they are in real life and it’s just as easy to get lost although you’re not going to wind up in the morgue if you get all your directions completely muddled up and go round the wrong way straight into a truck. No, in this regard, Google Earth was rather kind. I could sort of diagonally scoot over the top, hold my breath and much to my relief spot the sign to Midleton. I’m almost there!
I don’t know what I expected to find in Midleton. Ideally, I’d find somebody who knew all about Bridget. The bits I don’t know. After all, there are two main parts to Bridget’s story…the Irish and Australian bits and it’s not that easy to join them up, especially when I haven’t even been able to find a death for Bridget in Australia (or her husband George) and you can’t just stick a Wanted Ad up on a telegraph pole when you’re looking for your missing ancestor and where and when they were buried. That said, many would say that she’s entitled to her privacy and if she’s been this hard to track down when I’m rather relentless, perhaps it’s time to leave well enough alone. However, I’m not giving up yet. There are still a few stones left which haven’t been turned.
Anyway, I did manage to find Midleton Library. That might be helpful.
I also just enjoyed walking along these streets she and my other forebears trod all those years ago. She was 19 years old when she arrived in Sydney and I wonder if she had a sweetheart she left behind. Or, maybe, he was one of the million or so who perished during the Great Hunger. Or, he sailed to America onboard one of those dreaded “coffin ships”. I don’t know. Moreover, while we’re talking about all I don’t know, I’m wondering why we didn’t study something about Irish history over here in Australia given those so many of us have Irish heritage. Humph. I don’t really need to ask I already know. There’s lots about Australian history we didn’t touch on at school. So, I shouldn’t be surprised.
However, as I mentioned in my last post, while I didn’t find any connection to Bridget Donovan in Midleton, I a sixth sense led me to Midleton Bookshop, and it just so happened that I looked up their web site to see what might be in their front window, when i felt a magnetic attraction towards a book by Irish author, Michael Harding. I’ve since bought two of his books and listened to quite a number of his podcasts. He’s such a find. Here’s a link to that story here: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2022/02/19/irish-author-michael-harding-midleton-bookshop-ireland/
Well, I might pop back later and add a few more photos. It’s really late and my head is spinning. I have really loved visiting Cloyne and Midleton, wandering around the streets and wondering about Bridget Donovan.
I would love to hear from you and hope you’ve had a great weekend.
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.
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.
This whole concept of trying to get in the zone before school goes back is failing miserably. I sat in my chair at my computer without any sense of where to start and what to do next, and the dog sat on my lap which only compounded my sense of being lost in the wilderness, when I suddenly remembered I had my weekly Coffee Share to write. A quick check revealed I still have an hour to go. How lucky am I. Being on Summer time, I’ve gone forward an hour, and Natalie has lost an hour. Happy days!
Well, after much soul searching during the last week which mostly revolved around a close covid contact and our son’s return from youth camp, I am feeling a sense of relief. As you can see from the opening, I’m not quite on top of things, but I’m not travelling backwards at the speed of sound either.
Indeed, I feel I’ve moved forward somewhat from when I posted this during the week:
The most important thing is that we were covid clear. I was still fighting the pseudo-covid virus and annoying vertigo, but not being covid meant we could get some milk, Geoff could do a critical IT upgrade at the hospital and I wasn’t left wondering whether I should go to hospital or not. As I said, happy days. On top of that, our daughter is getting back on track with her dance after a difficult year last year, and in their production of Swan Lake, she will be covering Odette and playing a Big Swan. It’s so exciting. She was also accepted into a separate choreography piece, and I’m not sure what that’s about but she’s in.
Meanwhile, I’m working towards the “kids'” upcoming birthdays. Our son will be turning 18 in March and our daughter will be turning “Sweet 16” (I sometimes wonder about that, but most of the time she’s sweet enough). As you could imagine, I’ve taken loads of photos over the years. I’m wanting to produce some printed photo books. However, they have around 30 pages, and although you can add extra pages, you don’t want something the size of an old-fashioned phone book. It has to be manageable. So I think the 30 pages is good, and I’ll just break them down into categories and do a couple. However, producing a photo book is much more complex than I thought, especially if I’m producing the photos he wants to see, which might be very different from the photos I would choose for myself. There are also ethical dilemmas, and on this front, I’m running with the Golden Rule. I know I’m very good at over-complicating things, but this time I’d seriously under-estimated what was involved and I’m seriously hoping the special deal they have running doesn’t run out before I’ve got it sorted. I guess that also tells me what I’m doing this afternoon.
Lastly, in terms of research this week, I’ve been doing a bit on my Irish family history. This time, I’ve been looking at the Curtins from Cork City, County Cork. I’ve mentioned them last week I think. It’s now starting to look like John Curtin’s siblings survived the Great Hunger and childhood. Or, at least some of them did, which is good and we probably have rather distant family who are still there. Small steps. Meanwhile, I walked around Cork City via Google Earth. It was fun, and I covered quite a lot of distance in my lounge chair without wearing out. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get over there in the not too distant future!
Btw here’s a link to a post I put together for Thursday Doors:
Well, how was your week? I hope it’s been good and I look forward to hearing about your adventures over tea or coffee.
Meanwhile, you might like to join us over at the Weekend Coffee Share, which is hosted by Natalie the Explorer https://natalietheexplorer.home.blog/ I can’t offer you any fresh baked snacks, but I can share a slice of paradise:
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.
I’m not so sure you’ll be wanting to come round to my place this week. Not only is the house a disaster zone, but the air is redolant with the aroma of choking bushfire smoke and while I was picking our daughter up from school today, a warning siren sounded on the radio from the Rural Fire Service warning that the fire status is catastrophic for Greater Sydney tomorrow. People have been warned to get out and not to expect assistance from fire services. They could well be overwhelmed with not enough resources to go round. Many schools will be closed and there really is that sense of Armageddon in the air. Meanwhile, I’m trying to “Keep Calm & Carry On”. We’ve had dire warnings like this before about others pending catastrophes (Y2K for example) and nothing’s come of it. Just because the conditions are condusive doesn’t necessarily mean disaster. That said, there have been over 70 bushfires raging over the weekend. However, aside from the smoke, they haven’t impacted on us here.
This photo was taken later in the afternoon just as we were leaving. The Jacaranda tree has a very special place and was in full bloom and absolutely stunning.
The highlight of the last week was heading down to Sydney on Saturday to attend The PLC Garden Party. That’s what my old school calls their annual fete, which pretty much gives away that I went to a high faluting school. I met up with a group of friends for traditional lunch of champagne and chicken sandwiches at the ex-students stall (usually known as the “old girls”). I skipped the champagne and bought myself a $6.00 chocolate cupcake with a mountainous swirl of butter cream on top. It was interesting trying to eat that elegantly in front of my friends as I face-planted into the icing, resembling a grubby two year old. Of course, I should’ve known better but clearly my sweet tooth overrode all sensibility.
The cake stall wasn’t my only point of weakness.
There was also the book stall. No doubt many of you have also succombed to this weakness and like any other form of addict, really should go cold turkey and implement a firm policy of total avoidance. 100% abstinance. However, when it’s the end of the day and you can fill a box for $10.00, practicality sets in although many would see this as a guised form of FOMO (fear of missing out).
The other aburdity of bringing home even just this relatively small box load of books, is that I’ve put the house on a diet and I’m actively putting this bookcumulation process into reverse and clearing the shelves, piles, columns away so we can aquire that very rare commody…breathing space.
Before I move on from the school Garden Party, I wanted to share one of our important annual rituals. Every year the Knox Pipe Band plays at the Garden Party. They’re our brother school and that also btw was where actor Hugh Jackman went to school and I’m not sure if he was the only lure for some of my school mates to audition for the Knox Musical, but he was the lead male back in the day and not a bad incentive. Thoought you’d appreciate a few photos. BTW I should also point out that my school used to be the Presbyterian Ladies’ College and both Knox and PLChave Scottish heritage hence the pipe band.
It was actually quite a social weekend. It started on Friday night when we attended a birthday party at the “The Treehouse”. That’s what my friend calls his pole home up among the gum trees and it appears that the local wildlife have also made themselves at home, which includes at least one possum, rainbow lorrikeets and cheeky sulfur-crested cockatoos which my friend refuses to feed because they’ll chew up your house. I made an ambitious Caramel Nut Tart. It’s taken me two years to muster up the courage to make it. We have it at the Macadamia Castle up near Byron Bay and the recipe was published in a local cookbook. Yum. So proud of myself for doing this and I’m planing to make it for Christmas Day.
Out for dinner at a Japanese restaurant with a friend.
I stayed with my parents on Saturday night and spent the day in Sydney. I went back to the Church I grew up in on Sunday morning nad chilled out for the rest of the day with my parents and brother and even tinkered away on the piano. I’m rather deluded when it comes to these piano efforts. I expect to be able to pick up the music I used to play back in the day and play it like no water’s passed under the bridge and I’ve been keeping up my practice. Yes, very deluded. However, I’m adding ambitious to that description because I’ve photocopied the music for Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and Phantom of the Opera’s Music of the Night. By the way, I probably should mention that my mother is a piano teacher and accompanist and has loads of music at my fingertips. Indeed, her loungeroom with the grand piano and all the music is a musical bonanza. I often take my violin down but didn’t this time as it would’ve spent the day in a hot car, which it doesn’t like.
Private Jack Quealey
Lastly, I’m still deeply embroiled in my research. The twists and turns keep changing. However, I’m fundamentally researching my Great Grandmother’s family, the Quealys of Lisheenfurror, Moyarta, County Clare. My Great Grandmother’s brother, Jack Quealey, served in WWI and I was researching his war service in more detail this week. Trying to nut out even a general idea of what he went through is very difficult , despite reading through his service records with a fine tooth comb. However, they mentioned he was wounded and that put a sort of stake in the ground. I was able to work out that he was was most likely wounded in the battle of Mouquet Farm near Pozieres. I then turned to the old newspapers which are online and found some gripping letters home which were published in local papers, which gave incredible insights into what our soldiers and my Great Great Uncle went through.It was incredibly humbling and I don’t know how anyone made it out alive. By the way, working on these war records atm has been great timing. Today, is Armistace Day.
So, that sums up last week.
How was your week? I hope you’ve had a great one.
This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to pop round and join us.
If I could jump in a time machine right this minute and go back to any moment in history, I’d set the dial for the 19th November, 1915. Or, to be on the safe side, even a day earlier. The place would be 42 Colin Street, North Sydney (Now in modern Cammeray. By the way, the house is still standing).
Obviously, this seems like a totally random time and place to go back to. Indeed, I’m sure many of you would choose to back to a much more significant point in history, and rewrite events for the greater good. Perhaps, you might go back to the 4th April, 1968, fighting to prevent the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Or, perhaps you’d go back to the 28th June, 1914 in Sarajevo and deal with Gavrilo Princip, the man who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife. As you may recall from your high school history lessons, their assassination was the final spark which triggered World War I.
Above: Perhaps you’d like to go back in time and prevent these events.
These are noble gestures, and I commend you. Normally, I would be more concerned about making a valuable contribution to the greater good. However, right now, my needs are simple.
I’d just like to ask my 3rd Great Grandmother to fill out her own death certificate, instead of leaving such an important family document in the hands of her daughter. Unfortunately, she not only left out some significant details, but also included misinformation. Not that I’d go so far as saying she lied. However, the people filling out these forms need to consider the people following in their footsteps, who not only need answers, but also the truth. After all, filling out a death certificate is NOT a creative writing exercise!
Andrew Wyeth, The Wind From The Sea, which conjures up images of ghosts, absent friends etc.
This brings me back to Maria Bridget Flanagan, who went on to marry John Alexander Johnston and gain another surname. Recently, I posted a story about how a vagrant set fire to her house , after being inspired by the actions of the Mosman Bomber. However, while I was thrilled to bits to stumble across this story, in so many very basic areas of family history research, Maria or Bridget (this seems to vary with the wind) is a very slippery fish and she’s determined not to get caught. The questions remain.
Getting back to her death certificate, it states that she was 79 years old, making her year of birth around 1836. Her father is given as Martin Flanagan. She was born in County Clare, Ireland. She spent 6 years in Victoria before leaving for New Zealand. After returning to Australia, she spent 32 years in NSW, putting their arrival in NSW around 1879. Age at first marriage is unknown and his name is given as __Flanagan. Age at second marriage was 26. Spouse: John Johnston. These details conflict a little with her marriage certificate, which said she as 23, making her date of birth closer to 1841.
Maria Bridget Flanagan immigrated from Victoria to New Zeland and Married John Alexander Johnston at Invercargill in 1864.
Well, you would think this message provided great hope, insight, a Eureka moment worthy of jumping out of the bathtub and running naked down the street. Well, I would’ve run naked down the street, if only I’d been able to confirm the details of the message. I haven’t been able to find a Quintin Flanagan, but I have managed to find a Bridget Doherty with a father Martin, but they were living in Kerry. That said, this Bridget’s brother was later living in Ennis, County Clare. It might not be all wrong, but surely Mary Ann Wilson, her own daughter, would’ve known which county her mother came from. Then again, so many things fly under the radar in a busy household, but I would’ve thought it’s an odd thing to get wrong.
Map of Ireland 1808
In the meantime, I started looking for a Bridget Doherty with a father called Martin who fitted into the right time framework and I did find somebody. There as a Bridget Doherty christened 15th February, 1841 in Currow, Kerry, Ireland and her parents were Martin Doherty and Ellenora O’Brien who were married at the Roman Catholic Church, Castle Island, Kerry. Following on from this, I found an arrival of a Bridget Doherty as an Unassisted Immigrant onboard The Sultana arriving in Melbourne 1st April, 1858. She was 18 years old, which places her date of birth as around 1840 and in the picture.
However, if you’ve ever tried your hand at this family detective business, you should know that 1 +1 doesn’t necessarily = 2. Indeed, a myriad of random details all need to align. Even then, you might have doubts, and end up with a “cold case”. Of course, you don’t throw your hands in the air and chuck all your research out. However, you also need to switch off, or at least shift, that stubbornly obsessive detective focus. Or else, you’ll go mad. After all, we’ve all heard about those cops who turn to drink after being unable to solve that elusive case of the crim who got away.We don’t want to be next.
When I get stuck like this on one of my people, I usually start sniffing around their known haunts for clues, looking for even the scantest hint of a scent. Sometimes, I’ve been lucky and I’ve found the missing piece. However, there have been a few particularly slippery fish determined to slip out of my grasp. There’s also a point where the records run out. Then, you simply have to accept, that you’ve reached the end of the road.
So, still intent on finding out what I could about this Bridget Doherty, I set the ship into reverse and sailed back across the seas to Curnow, a very pretty town on the Ring of Kerry. I must admit that I felt a bit lost arriving in Curnow, and wasn’t entirely comfortable in my new-found shoes as a “Doherty”. Did they really fit? To be honest, it felt like plucking names out of a hat, and goodness knows which name I’ll be looking for down the track if I’ve got my Bridget wrong. It’s moments like this, that I ask why women change their names just to get married? It makes them very hard to track down, and more often than not, it deletes their personal history altogether. After all, Bridget was a someone long before she became a Mrs!
Anyway, thanks to Google, I found myself in this gorgeous Irish town of Curnow, where she was Christened, and then onto Kenmare where some of her siblings got married. It was in Kenmare that I was in for quite a surprise, although it had nothing to do with finding Bridget’s origins. Rather, it was a case of seeing an almost identical twin.
Above- The Cammeray Suspension Bridge, Sydney, completed in 1892. Below:Kenmare Suspension Bridge Completed in 1841. Perhaps, not identical twins on closer inspection but pretty close.
You see, the Kenmare Suspension Bridge, which was completed in 1841, was almost identical to the Cammeray Suspension Bridge built by Maria Bridget Johnston’s brother-in-law, Alexander Johnston, and her husband. Indeed, while Maria as living at The Boulevard, she was only a stone throw away. If this is indeed the right Bridget, isn’t that incredible that she travelled all the way from Ireland to Sydney and then gets to see a piece of home appear stone by stone before her very eyes. Of course, I love the pure poetry of that. The sense of that beautiful bridge, which has provided a link between numerous descendants here in Australia, now connecting Bridget and her descendants in Australia back to her home in Ireland.
If only I could be sure that it’s true!
Just to add insult to injury, I’ve also been able to find out so much about this Doherty family. Details which have eluded me with other branches of the family, where I know who’s who, and equally who is not. This just added salt to the wound, and I can’t tell you how much I was wanting this Bridget Doherty to me mine. Indeed, I was even thinking of bending the facts ever so slightly to make them fit, which is an unforgivable sin for even a novice researcher.
Dromore Castle, Templenoe, Kerry.
In the Griffiths Valuation, I actually found Martin Doherty living at Templenoe and his landlord was a Reverend Denis Mahony, who was a rector of the Church of Ireland. He also owned and built Dromore Castle in Templenoe, looking out over the Kenmare River. A keen proselytiser, he set up a soup kitchen at Dromore during the Irish Potato Famine, and preached to the hungry, who came for food at the chapel at Dromore. His proselytizing activities made him rather unpopular. In 1850, he was attacked in his church at Templenoe. On returning to Dromore, he found another angry mob had uprooted flower beds, felled trees and were about to set fire to the castle. It is claimed, that they were only stopped by the intervention of the local priest.
As you can see, without any confirmation that she was my Bridget, the story was running away all by itself, and I was like that poor dog owner being pulled along by their dog at an alarming rate, and almost becoming airborne. The story had me by the short and curlies.
Of course, I had to put on the brakes. Take stock. Find the line between fact and fiction, and not let myself be lured over into dark side. Reject this evil temptation to fabricate the evidence, and do that boring, methodical Police work… going over and over the data again.
“Yes, it is very true, that. And it is just what some people will not do. They conceive a certain theory, and everything has to fit into that theory. If one little fact will not fit it, they throw it aside. But it is always the facts that will not fit in that are significant.”
― Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile
What was it going to take to find those missing pieces, which would complete Maria Bridget’s story and discern our Flanagans, from our Docherty/Doherties?
Moreover, why does it matter? Is it only the thrill of the chase that leads me on, and nothing to do with who I am, my DNA and genetic heritage? Am I something of a sham?
I don’t know. Hoever, I’ve come so far in such a short time, surely this mystery will be kind to me and let go of her secrets.
Maria Bridget Flanagan, Doherty, Docherty…Come out! Come out! Wherever you are!
PS Writing all these details up has indeed been rather helpful. I’m now thinking that more information may have been captured when she married John Johnston. Although I ordered the marriage certificate, it contains very little information. Indeed, it doesn’t contain enough information for a legal marriage. I think that information is out there somewhere. That’s my next port of call. Wish me luck!
Welcome to the second last day of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge. Today, we’re moving onto Irish artist, Jack Butler Yeats (1887-1957), who was not only a painter, but also won a medal in swimming at the x Olympics, wrote poetry and novels including a stream of conscious novel, which had the nod from none less than James Joyce of Ulysses fame himself. I’m not sure whether this qualifies him as a Renaissance Man, but he certainly could pass as Rodin’s Thinker, which represents a fusion of athletic fitness, the intellect and the poetic mind (at least in my humble, unqualified opinion!)
Initially, I’d chosen Jack Butler Yeats, because I’d written top his brother, William Butler Yeats, two years ago when my A-Z theme was Writing Letters to Dead Poets. While I didn’t know much about either brother at the outset, I felt a connection through our shared Irish blood. That although I’m a sixth generation Australian and my last Irish ancestor arrived in 1855, that I still have more than a glass and a half of Irish in me and I’ve been wanting to explore my own cultural heritage further.
Born in London in 1887, Jack Yeats was the youngest son of Irish portrait artist, John Butler Yeats and Susan Pollexfen, and the brother of W. B. Yeats, who received the 1923 Nobel Prize in Literature. He grew up in County Sligo, Ireland with his maternal grandparents, and was deeply influenced by his grandfather, William Pollexfen who was a former seaman. He returned to his parents’ home in London in 1887. Early in his career he worked as an illustrator for magazines, drew comic strips and wrote articles for Punch under the pseudonym “W. Bird”. In 1894, he married Mary Cottenham, also a native of England, and they resided in County Wicklow. From around 1920, Yeats developed into an intensely Expressionist artist, moving from illustration to Symbolism. He was sympathetic to the Irish Republican cause, but not politically active. However, he believed that ‘a painter must be part of the land and of the life he paints’, and his own artistic development, as a Modernist and Expressionist, helped capture 20th century Dublin , partly by depicting specifically Irish subjects, but also by doing so in the light of universal themes such as the loneliness of the individual, and the universality of the plight of man. Samuel Beckett wrote that “Yeats is with the great of our time… because he brings light, as only the great dare to bring light, to the issueless predicament of existence.” The Marxist art critic and author John Berger also paid tribute to Yeats from a very different perspective, praising the artist as a “great painter” with a “sense of the future, an awareness of the possibility of a world other than the one we know”. Moreover, his father recognized that Jack was a far better painter than he, and also believed that ‘some day I will be remembered as the father of a great poet, and the poet is Jack’. Jack Yeats died in Dublin in 1957, and was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.
Perhaps I’m running out of brainpower towards the end of the challenge, or Jack Butler Yeats is more difficult to fathom than most. That’s why he’s running a day late. The more I get to know him, the more confused I become. I guess that’s a natural part of getting to know anyone. That, after you get passed those initial introductions, it’s like all the pieces suddenly fall out of the cereal box at once, and it takes time and effort to assemble them into any kind of picture. If I was a surrealist like Salvador Dali, or an abstract expressionist like Jackson Pollock, that might not matter. They’ve already accepted that nothing makes sense. That there is no natural order of things, and our world is utter chaos. However, my background is in historical research where you research, document and footnote the facts. Moreover, you’re also meant to come up with conclusions, which should look more like a neat stack of boxes, than multi-coloured scribble on a whiteboard, which is how my thoughts are looking right now.
This brings me to that great imponderable…Can anyone truly know anyone? I mean even when you look into your nearest and dearest’s eyes, how much do you really see? How well do you really know them? Can you be sure? Or, are you seemingly dancing together, yet actually listening to different songs with entirely different meanings? Since most of us marry our opposite, it’s probably more than likely. Yet, diversity, and having complementary skill sets and the capacity to extend each other, are all wonderful things. It’s just that sometimes it’s nice to look into someone’s eyes, and at least see a glimpse of ourselves. Get the feeling they’ve walked in our shoes…and reciprocate.
That’s Lady at the back and Bilbo at the front.
My dog has mastered this, especially when I’m cooking. Lady sits there at the foot of the stove and could easily take out “Best in Show” switching on her huge, chocolate-brown eyes, oozing with so much love and understanding, that I fall completely under her spell and feed her. Yet, for some reason we humans are losing the art of eye-contact, especially in this age of the screen. It really helps to bridge the gap between two souls.
Anyway, immersing myself in all things Jack Butler Yeats, last night I was reading: Passages from the Letters of John Butler Yeats Selected By Ezra Pound. Before I start linking some of his thoughts to his paintings, I thought I’d go off course again, and share some of his thoughts about poets and poetry…
“With the man of poetical temperament experience is an end in itself. Others go through life, as though they were tourists, with their eyes open for enjoyment and some kind of profitable speculation.”
“Carlyle was by nature all poet and musician, but his Scotch conscience put a veto on his natural inclinations. He married an ugly wife, thereby perhaps scaring away the Muses. It is often so.”
“…there is another type (of man) the man who does not want to rule or be ruled, and that is the man who writes poetry.”
Jack Butler Yeats, Man In A Room Thinking.
One of the resounding themes of these letters was just how much Yeats valued solitude, and it could well be said that he elevated the Solitary Man to the heights of Da Vinci’s Renaissance Man.
“I will write again of the solitary man. First of all, alone among men, he is himself and only himself. The companionable man is himself and someone else, seeking expression through the medium of prose or action, thinking of other people and therefore always leaning towards compromise and for that reason working in a spirit of insincerity. Poetry is the voice of the solitary, as resonant and as pure and lonely as the lark at sunrise. If the lark were to bother itself with the `Collective Soul’ of the universe, it would not sing at all. Again, the solitary is the only man who retains his spiritual integrity. With the companionable, belief is opinion living in the heart of talk or action, and dying away when the heat fades.
Old hermits were right in their instinct for the desert since it meant a living to oneself, wrong in the sense that it meant a separation from human voices and from the faces of men, women and children, an uprooting of the human plant from its natural surroundings.”
However, as much as Yeats elevated the solitary man, he populates his paintings with people and there was one particular story I came across which revealed he had quite a love and compassion for the every day person on the street, or in this instance train, and their story. For this story, we’re turning to Man on a Train Thinking 1928.
The painting went up for auction recently and this account appeared in The Irish Times:
“The painting depicts a man whom Yeats met on a train from Dublin to the west in 1928. Yeats apparently noticed a man “in the corner of the carriage, who had a woebegone expression and whose coat and collar were buttoned up to his ears”.
He looked so wan and sad that the artist asked him: “Are you ill? Can I do anything to help you?”
“No, sir, thank you,” replied the man.“You see, it’s like this, sir,” he continued. “I bought a ticket for the Calcutta sweepstake for a pound note. Then I sold it to a man for £2. And now that ticket has won a prize for a hundred thousand,” and he sighed dolefully.
“Great heavens,” Yeats said, “if that happened to me I’d have cut my throat.” Then, to the artist’s consternation, his sickly looking fellow-traveller moaned: “That’s just what I have done, sir!”.
By the way, I completely misread this painting. What I saw was a man sitting on the train reading a book. Yeats’ solitary man…the poet. This interpretation really resonated with me as the only time I can really get stuck into a book, is on the train, although I always write a lot too and always take a notepad and a book with me. That said, I’ve also been caught short, and resorted to those last blank pages they leave at the back of the book. BY the way, my train trip is quite scenic, as the train snakes around the waterfront and crosses over the Hawkesbury River Bridge. The view’s particularly magnificent at sunset, illuminated by the golden glow of the setting sun.
Jack Butler Yeats, A Giant Reading.
Yeats also addressed the social isolation experienced by people who are different in some way and saw it as a mixed blessing:
“A man on his deathbed or after he has been snubbed by his wife may enjoy a few moments of solitude, the rest of his life is a noisy gregariousness. He fears solitude as a child fears the dark, indeed it is a universal dread which one must learn to conquer. A poet learns his lesson generally by finding himself early in life shunned, he is odd. `Why was I born with a different face?’ Blake asked. Genius is fundamentally odd and men hate the exceptional.”
As you might recall, people with extraordinary physical appearance often became attractions in the circus, where they became spectacles for general entertainment. In A Giant Reading, he’s showing two circus weirdos sitting together…the tallest man in the world and the blonde woman sitting next to him is an albino. Of course, that wasn’t how I saw it and thought it was possibly a couple who’d just got married…the newlyweds.
Jack Butler Yeats, Among the Reeds.
Finally, I just wanted to mention Among the Reeds. Although I don’t get out very often, I love kayaking and when my parents had a holiday house on the waterfront, I used to paddle along a narrow waterway through the mangroves and almost disappear. It was magical, being surrounded by nature on all four sides, and inhaling and exhaling with King Neptune and anything else that was above or below the water.
By the way, I just stumbled upon an article in the Irish Times, which exposes Jack Butler Yeats greatest secret in The Secret Life of Jack Yeats. I decided not to ruin the anticipation and highly recommend you read the article itself. Clearly, I am not the only one who found that the various pieces of Jack Yeats which weren’t fitting together very well.
After all this challenging research, I’ve almost run out of steam. However, I’d better get that letter written…
A Letter to Jack Butler Yeats
You were quite a letter writer back in your day, so I hope you’ll be pleased to hear from me. I can’t remember exactly why I started writing these Letters to Dead Artists. Of course, I needed some kind of theme for the Blogging A-Z April Challenge and while it’s decimated my capacity to keep up with the day to day, this daily pressure cooker environment does wonders for my writing, and instead of editing my work over and over and over an\gain and filing it in the bottom drawer or my hard drive, it’s post and up on the world wide web. It’s out there. It’s almost turning me into a Woman of Action, although I’m still too much of an over-thinker to get there yet.
Anyway, as I said, I’m not exactly sure why I started writing these letters. I honestly don’t feel like I’m really communicating with the dead and it’s surely not you guys replying back to me and yet there’s stuff popping into these letters which clearly hasn’t come from myself. It’s all a bit of a mystery really, but I’m not the first creative soul who’s experienced “the muse”. Indeed, you wrote:
“The solitary is one with the forces of nature, with which no man can argue; every action and thought of his mind and every feeling comes from sources beyond our utmost ken. And in thus describing the solitary, am I not uncovering what is the essence of that true poetry which I have called the voice of the solitary?”
I have a feeling that when you passed away and crossed over the rainbow bridge as we say about our dog, you took a few pieces out of the puzzle with you so that any nosy parkers like myself who came snooping around in your wake, would only get more and more confused the more they delved into the pot. Indeed, I can’t help wondering whether you completely dismantled or even burned up your studio to maintain your mystique. French artist and sculptor Edgar Degas, who you might’ve known, is regretting not torching his studio, now he’s seen what they’ve done to the Little Dancer. He’s still dropping F bombs and it’s now been a few weeks. He’s even tried to snatch her out of the Louvre to blow her up. I shouldn’t be telling you this because you could become implicated. It’s bad enough I’m in on it.
Anyway, the whole idea of these letters is to ask each artist a question. I guess my question for you, is how focused should an artist, writer, creative person be on the task at hand? Or, should they leave themselves some room to jump off the railway track and even go right off the grid? You achieved so much across a range of fields, that you were clearly able to divide your focus and back a few winning horses at the same time. I often find that I stumble across things and most of my best work has been completely spontaneous. Indeed, this series is a case in point. I simply started out with a list of artists but even that’s changed and I only plucked you out of the hat two days ago out of some inexplicable gut feel. That said, there wasn’t a lot of competition for the letter Y.
Anyway, you’d better join the train with the rest of the rabble. I’m sorry your journey will be so short. There’s only one day to go.
A Letter From William Butler Yeats.
Thank you so much for your letter. Ezra Pound snatched it straight out of my hands. He calls himself my “Letter Keeper”. Indeed, it’s been a bit tricky because of course I have to keep my correspondence with Punch Magazine a secret and I couldn’t have him knowing that I’m “W. Bird”. Clearly, he’s not very discreet as he’s already published my private letters.
Well, I don’t know if this answers your question, but here goes:
“Reason is a school-master calling his boys into school, imagination is a school master in a happy mood dismissing them to wander in the woods, for the space of that holiday every boy to be his own master. “
Does that help? In my day, we also said you needed to stop to smell the roses. That doesn’t mean you can only smell roses and keep walking past the frangipanni, lavender or wattle blossoms if I’m over your way. It means you’ve got to take time out of the everyday and immerse yourself in nature for awhile. Recharge your soul, just like you people are constantly charging your stupid phones.
Well, I’d better post this before Ezra sees it.
Passages from the Letters of John Butler Yeats Selected By Ezra Pound. This letter was dated February 6th, 1915