Does this Story of an Irish Immigrant sound familiar to you? In this letter we will start a new feature of introducing a “Letter of the Month”, where a member gets to share their Irish Journey with the Letter from Ireland community.
Céad Míle Fáilte – and welcome to your Letter from Ireland for this week. How are things in your part of the world today? I’m delighted to introduce another reader’s “Letter of the Month”. We get so many stories each week, it seems a pity not to share some of the best. So, congratulations to Kevin Nolan who shared the following letter.
I’m the product of a mixed bag – my mother came from Portadown in County Armagh, and my father from Glenties in Donegal. Mother came to America because, as a Catholic in the North in the fifties, she was denied employment and higher education beyond high school.
She and her younger sister braved an ocean voyage on a tramp steamer that returned to the UK and was scrapped right after arrival in the US. They endured rough seas, bad food as well as cold and wet quarters. But when the ship pulled into New York Harbour, they stood on deck and saw the Statue of Liberty. They knew they had made it.
Shortly after arrival, they were swindled out of their money by a man who offered to exchange their pounds for dollars, and had to rely on charity from the British Consulate to continue their journey to Chicago to join their older sister who had emigrated a few years earlier.
They arrived in Chicago cold, hungry and broke, but were collected by their sister’s husband who brought them to his home where they were reunited with their older sister whom they had not seen for several years. The following day, Mum read the Want Ads, and then navigated the mass transit system to downtown Chicago to arrive at Marshall Field department store. She filled out a job application, was interviewed and hired on the spot. To this day, 60 years on, she still marvels that “no one asked me if I was Catholic” She is 80 now, and her story still resonates….
My father was a different story. He was one of 9 children born in a remote area of Donegal and raised in a tiny cottage with no running water or power. He was born in 1920 on a farm that provided just enough food to feed the family. He was a wanderer by nature and in his teens he quit school to help support the family, very common in those days so I’m told. He did not speak English, and headed off to the Aran Islands of Scotland to work on the farms there, alongside lots of other Irish lads.
He remained a wanderer for the rest of his life, traveling to America a lot, to relatives in Pennsylvania, Vancouver, BC, a jaunt to California. He then made a visit to Chicago for long enough to meet my mother and father a child with her. He promptly split town as soon as she discovered she was pregnant. He did construction work, mining, civil engineering, whatever work there was…never owned a home, but always wore a natty suit and drove a nice car. In all the pictures I have of him he is wearing a suit and tie and with a nice car.
His life went full circle, and he retired and moved back to the family farm in County Donegal to live with his brother. He died in the doorway of the cottage he was born in, of a massive heart attack, on 25th Feb 1987 at the age of 66. The irony was that while my Father had his car at the cottage, his brother did not know how to drive, and had to walk three miles to the nearest phone to seek help. But by then it was too late.
I was given up at birth and adopted, and have only just become aware of all these wonderful stories over the last three years, after I found my birth mother.
It’s a wonderful life…I have four wonderful Irish families!
Thank you for sharing that story, Kevin. It is so personal, but I’m sure the themes and circumstances resonate with so many of our readers.
That’s it for this week – as always do feel free to share your stories, comments and Irish surnames in your family.
Slán for now,
Mike & Carina.
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