The following is an Irish Story submitted by Nancy Hogan Wilson as part of our 2015 Reader Story competition. The winner of the competition will be announced on February 14, 2015. Please do feel free to leave your comments, questions – and encouragement! in the comment section at the end of the story. ~Mike Collins.
Seventeen-year-old Hannah Canty leaned over the rail of the Bostonian and watched the water rushing by. The voyage was not an easy one and she prayed that everything that was planned would go well. She leaned back and looked down at her clothes. Just for a second, she worried she would not be accepted in this new land she was venturing into. She’d heard stories; then, her worries were gone. She was not a pauper. Her family owned a grocery store in Roscarbery and they were well-known upstanding citizens of the community.
Thomas said he would be there to meet the ship and all would be right. She’d met him in Cork and had fallen head over heals in love with him. He was a good ten years older, but that mattered not to Hannah. The headstrong black haired beauty knew what she wanted and no one could talk her out of it. Her two sisters had begged her not to go; they were that scared for her. Thomas had written her several times to set up the plan. He told her he could easily get her a job as a governess with a large family he knew.
When the ship docked, Hannah made her way down the ramp and got in line with the other immigrants coming to America. There was a long list and the waiting seemed like an eternity. Finally, it was Hannah’s turn to face the inquisitors. Her name was listed and her age.
County Cork – Ireland -Hannah Canty – age 17 years – spinster.
She’d heard all of the questions that were asked before and she spoke up before the gentlemen.
“I am Hannah Canty, I am strong and healthy and I have a position waiting for me as well as a fiancé who is here to collect me.” She said with determination.
“And who might that person be?” One of the men asked.
A young man appeared and stood before Hannah.
“Right here sir, I am Richard Thomas, and Hannah is my bride-to-be.” He said.
Hannah was thrilled to see him, but a little confused by what he was calling himself.
“Very well.” They stamped the papers while Thomas grabbed her portmanteau and then they were off.
“But Thomas, why on earth have you changed your name?” Hannah asked.
“Quiet.” Thomas said to her until they were out of earshot.
“Hannah, the stories you have heard are true. No one will hire the Irish, ‘tis better for us to remain Mr. and Mrs. Richard Thomas, at least here in Boston.” He said.
And so the story goes that Hannah Canty married a man who did not exist, Richard Thomas.
He took her to a large house in Boston where she would begin her service as a live-in nanny.
“Here, you are Mrs. Thomas and your husband has died.” He told her.
The only thing he didn’t tell her was, that she would be a nanny to his children with his first wife.
Once my grandmother became pregnant with her first child, it was necessary for my grandfather to move her to Philadelphia, Pa.
My grandfather usually managed to keep his life with Hannah a secret. In fact, he was able to keep his third marriage a secret.
Hannah knew about the other two wives. She learned to keep quiet and do the best she could while he was gone, however, they lived in poverty most of the time.
My father recalled many times not being able to afford to buy a coat, they stuck newspapers in their shirts to try to keep warm.
When he married my mother and was able to find a good job with a company that only hired the Irish, he bought coats for everyone.
Between his other wives, he had approximately 23 children. My grandmother had two small boys who died shortly after they were born.
By the time Hannah was pregnant with her sixth child, his other two wives had passed away. He was then able to marry my grandmother who was pregnant with my father.
His brothers and sisters never resented my father; in fact, they loved him. The resentment was for their father and having to take his first name ‘Thomas’ as their last name.
First born, Uncle Dick (Richard Thomas) ran away from home at the age of sixteen and found work in Detroit where he lived the rest of his life. He never took a wife, because he could never give her his rightful last name.
My grandfather died Oct 11, 1936 at the age of 82. The newspapers report of his death, also mentioned the earlier death of his daughter Mary who had been a dancer in a nightclub in West Chester, Pa. Unfortunately she died in a car accident six months earlier by a man who had offered her a ride home. He was drunk at the wheel of a stolen car. He lived, she didn’t. He was extremely upset over her death.
There has never been any doubt of the love Hannah had for Thomas Hogan. Both born in County Cork, Ireland they had a love that seemed to surpass all the dignities and properties of what was accepted in those days.
The funny part of this story is that the half-brothers of Thomas Richard Hogan all knew each other. Henry Thomas and my father Frances Hogan would visit the saloons and bars that some of their half-brothers owned down the main line here in Pa. My mother was amazed at the camaraderie and friendship they had with each other.
I never met Hannah or my grandfather, they both died before I was born. I heard some of the stories of my grandmother’s antics and her temper, as she got older. And if I listened carefully, I heard some things I wasn’t meant to hear. But that’s another story.
The day of my grandfathers funeral, my Aunt Ada came into the kitchen where my grandmother was burning letters, one by one throwing them in the pot bellied stove.
“What are you doing ma?” Aunt Ada asked.
“Get out of here!” My grandmother shouted.
I would have loved to have met them. However, we were never allowed to speak of what we knew about the family. And believe me, we all knew.
Nancy Hogan Wilson,
Lancaster, PA, USA.
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