Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Those that have gone before me
On this St. Patrick's Day, as in holidays past, I reflect on the lives of my Irish ancestors. Sadly, I know little about the lives of those that came to America from Ireland other than names, and dates of birth and death. I can imagine, though, that they lived hard lives. The Ireland of the mid to late 1800's was not a particularly hospitable place except for those of the Protestant ascendancy. The famine nearly gutted the country. Those that survived the famine but could not escape to the "new world" were not left with little opportunity.
Coming to America couldn't have been much easier. Civil war era Irish immigrants often ended up on the Union Army. Anti-Irish bigotry in the U. S. was high into the early 20th century. Nothing was handed to those that came here; they had to make their way.
I believe that my great-great grandfather was killed in a railroad yard in Detroit when he was crushed by train car. There was no worker's compensation scheme at the time and his wife was left to raise my great-grandmother and other children on what money she could scrape together by doing laundry for the Catholic church.
I really wish I knew more stories like this. I know that they bore burdens I could not even imagine in soft, cushy, post-modern America. The blessings I have are at least indirectly the result of the great sacrifices they made. If I could say one thing to those that have gone before it would be, "Thank you!"
(The photograph is of the church yard of Bangor Abbey, County Down, Northern Ireland, the resting place of some of my Irish (Protestant) Ancestors.)