Eileen Cassidy was born in Aughlim, Co. Donegal, Ireland, in 1912, after her parents, Francis Cassidy (also of Aughlim) and Julia (Brennan) Cassidy (of Claremorris, Co. Mayo), made the unusual decision to return to Ireland in 1905 after having settled in Boston decades earlier.
Against the advice of those around him, Francis Cassidy, then 36, left behind a responsible job at a Boston hotel and the prospect of a better life, and took the family back to Ireland to live on a small farm. “My father could have been a rich man,” she says.
Eileen Cassidy spent the first 9 years of her life in Donegal before the family once again traveled on a ship back to America in 1921, re-settling in Boston.
In 2003, at the age of 91, she sat down with her grandson, Chris Cassidy, now a reporter with the Boston Herald newspaper, for a series of interviews about her life, growing up in Donegal and arriving in America for the first time.
This is her story in her own words:
Q: Do you remember anything about the reasons why the family came over to the United States?
A: You know that my family had lived here before. And my father had wanted to go back to Ireland. He had a very good job and they had a modest home in Roxbury.
Q: What did he do for a living?
A: He worked for cousins by the name of Broadbine. (Broadbien?) Jim Broadbine was his boss and the main owner. They had a hotel and a restaurant and bar. A lot of those places have trouble getting someone that’s really honest that they can trust with money, especially at the bar part. But my father was very honest. He wouldn’t take a penny from everybody. That was really true. He wouldn’t cheat anybody. That’s why the Broadbine man trusted my father so much. And of course he was always on the job. he nevfer stayed out and he was never late. They felt they really had somebody very competent. When my father told him he wanted to go to Ireland, he told my father, don’t be out of your mind. Other people told him the same thing too. Thigns are going well, he has a family, he has a home, he has everything. And a lot of people he knew weren’t making nearly as much money as he was. Usually in a big business like that, after a whgile they give them bonuses and things.
He was the top man. My father could have been a rich man. I mean that, really.
So when we came back after my father had spent 16 years in Ireland, they still had some friends they had before they left. My mother was very good friends with the woman. And they had a house they invited the family to. I wasn’t there, I went to stay with another aunt the first couple weeks. Because they were so many of us, they divided us up until we got our own home.
The house they had, my mother said, was like a mansion. My father said, ‘well, what I gave up, mcgonagle has.’ That was the man who took my father’s job.
Q: So why did he want to go back to Ireland?
A: I can explain that to you. This woman that I knew in Ireland said when Uncle Don wanted to go over there to live and bought the place to live, said not to think too much about it because she said, ‘There never was an Irishman who left this country to go to America that didn’t’ go with the intention of coming back.’ But most of them didn’t even come back, and the ones that did, didn’t stay. But that’s true. Cousins of people we knew thought they’d come back. There was real poverty in Ireland at this time and they all theought, if we only had some money…” so they heard about people coming here and going back with some money. They weren’t rich but they had nothing when they left. But they were going back with something. When my father came here, he didn’t intend to stay forever.
Q: So the idea was, you go over to the United States, you make some money, and then you come back to Ireland wealthier than you were before.
A: Most of them didn’t stay at all. They’d go over for visits, because when they got used to this country and used to a week’s pay, that week’s pay would stop when they went over there. If they did have some money, it would only last so long.
My father had the money that he got for the house he sold here and the furnishings. He must have saved some money too. But it didn’t last very long because he had no income when he got over there. All he had was the money he had brought from here. If he had a lot of money, he could have bought cattle and been a cattle dealer or many other things he could have done. But he didn’t have enough money. He wanted a farm. The farm he bought wasn’t a good farm for raising the vegetables and potatoes. A lot of it was all right for cows to graze on. Then you have to think about your own food, everything you have to eat.
He had a brother who was a very smart man (Uncle Patrick). He said, ‘Go back, Frank. If you stay here, you’ll have a big family and you’ll have nothing for them.’ Of course, truer words were never spoken.
[brother frank slaved away, didn’t know he was going to US, then went]
My sister Marion went out ot the barn one Sunday afternoon, my father was out there. And she told him she was going to come here. He knew long before that, that he ahd made a big mistake, but he didn’t want to give in that he made a mistake and he had nothing now.
Q: so when he comes back to Ireland, eventually all the money he had made from this hotel is gone, and now they’re back to where they started.
Yes. My mother explained it to us. The people who lived on farms where they went. They had all their crops in for the summer, and that was all their food for the winter. Potatoes and vegetables. The terf for the fire. And my father had none of those things, so he had to buy all those things. Nothing was coming in, but all that money was going out. And there was always another kid being born. And they didn’t seem to give any thought to the fact that it was going to be more expensive to have another child.
The kids didn’t have much of anything over there. All summer the kids went to school barefoot. They only had a few weeks vacation in the summer but whether they were in school or out, they went barefoot. And a lot of people just bought one pai of shoes for their kids for the real bad weather. When the shoes were gone, they didn’t get another pair until maybe in the fall if they had some crops or cattle to sell. But my father never had enough of that to keep themselves for their own supplies without selling anything. So the money went very fast.
Q: So do you think he decided to come back to Ireland because he was so attached to Ireland?
A: No, it was because he always planned on earning money and coming back with money. And if you went back and had money, you could do wonders. But he didn’t have enough for that.
Q: Was there something about the United States he didn’t like?
A: No. The people that leave Ireland usually love it, but they come only to earn money. And they think if they had money, they could go back and live well. But nmost of them didn’t go back to live because they found out what it was to have a week’s pay.
Cis Ward, a friend of ours who lives in NY now, went over to Ireland to visit. Her father was very sick at the time. Everyone went by boat that time and they planned to stay for quite a while. She said when you go over there, people expect a lot of you because they think you have plenty of money. And everyone in town expects you to bring them in for dinner.
Her father was very sick and she said her money was going fast because she was spending more than she intended to because of her father’s illness. She said, When I got down to knowing that all I had was what I had with me, I had to do something.’ She couldn’t tell the family on account of the father being sick and she didn’t want him to know. So she snuck out one day and came back [to the US] because she needed the money.
[cis ward = neighbor of ours in Ireland and in NY]
My cousins that came all stayed here and got married here. A lot of them were pretty good about sending money back to Ireland. When they were here, they lived in a house with a bathroom and all the improvements. Then they’re here for 10 years and they go back and you have to go outside to go to the bathroom. There was no place to take a bath or to do the things that they would really do if they were her. So it was inconvenience and terrible.
Q: How would you describe Ireland and Donegal Town, the best you can remember it, when you lived there, compared to the way it is now.
A: In Donegal Town, it was all very small. Some people lived in those houses in the town there. They would have something to sell. Even on Sunday if you went into the church in the town, some of those people would have an apple tree in their backyard and they’d be selling apples outside and they sold those apples only because they desperately needed the money for bread or potatoes or something like that. Apples were a treasure over there. But because they needed some money so badly, they would sell them for something they needed even worse.
Q: how much might an apple go for back then?
A: For a couple of pennies, you’d get a few in a bag. Think of the price of apples now. The people going in that lived on a farm, would have a basket ebcaue they had to walk into the town from miles away where they lived. They ddin’t have paper bags then, so it was nothing to see someone walking home with a loaf of bread wrapped in a piece of newspaper. They bought tea and sugar – those were the two main things. And maybe some cookies – theyc alled them biscuits over there. And maybe a few sweets. Candy would be a big thing. As far as groceries were concerned, maybe some butter or margarine. Just a few things. And they usually would get a little meat for the Sunday dinner, but that’s all the meat they would have for the week. Potatoes were the main stay, there’s no doubt about that.
The men would go in with the horse and cart — maybe one man from around the neighborhood – and they’d buy a bag of meal, as they’d called it, which would be like cereal to cook. And they’d buy a bag of flour for bread. And hed’ bring it home in his cart and maybe for the neighbors also. And that would be it.
Q: What about the houses?
A: my grandfather’s house. You go intot he house and on the right, there’sthe main room. On the left, is the kitchen and the stairs are straight ahead. So you go upstairs and tgehre’s a bedroom over the kitchen and a bedroom over the main room. And that is the house. That’s where about 10 kids grew up and the mother and father.
My aunt Maggie lived way outside Donegal. The name of the place was drumboarty. She married a man from drumboarty and Maggie was 16 years old when she got married to this man. It was a long distance to drumboarty, so her father probably brought her in on a horse and cart. I suppose the husband-to-be met them in the town. And so they came back to aughlim to the homestead. I think Maggie may have been the oldest, but there was a whole flock of them. My aunt sarah was very outspoken and she was very funny. She said, when I went down to the room in the morning and I saw my beautiful sister in bed with that old man – Maggie married an old man because he had a very good farm. That’st he truth.
Not only that, but the mother and father of the bride were in the same room. Now can you imagine the honeymoon?
One time long after I heard about that, I was in that room when we were having tea. And on the other side of the room, there was a table and chairs. So I was looking around and I thought, ‘there isn’t enough room here for two beds. So I thought, the four of them must have been in one bed.’ But I thought that was really funny.
Q: Were there such things as dates back then. Did you get to know the person before you got married?
A: Oh no. sometimes they didn’t even see the person they were marrying. That’s really the truth.
Q: So why is it that back then divorce was not something you ever heard of?
A: There was nothing else they could do. If they go divorced, what would they do? Where would they live then?
The Leghowney people – there were two men and two women in that house. None of them got married. But if oneo f those men had gotten married, the only thing he could do was bring a wife in there with all those people. And they might have children. They only had two bedrooms.
my father’s brother got married and lived at hoem with the mother and father. And I guess the rest of the family left. James, I think his name was. I don’t know how long he was married. But he died. So the woman he married was named Mary Cassidy. After James died, they thought, well they weren’t going to keep her. And so the way your grandfather told m,e they gave her enough money to buy a dress and gave her the road. She had to get out.
Q: Right before the time you left to come over to the United States, what’s an average day for people living on the farms?
A: Well, most of them would get up late in the day. That’s where they’d make a great mistake, they’d be late starting.
Q: Why wake up so late in the day?
A: Well, they’d stay up late at night. Then the men would go out in the fields. If they had cows, they’d put them out in what they called a “buyer.” They’d clean up the buyer and they’d put clean grass or something in for the next night and let the cows out. Then they’d go to work on the farms. Then they’d have dinner late in the day, not at 12 or something.
During the planting season, three or four men from different houses would get together and help plant farms. They’d all come and help and go to the next ones. They’d work together that way. Then, if the farmer had some money, he’d get some men and pay them a little. But they’d work for very little because they had no other way of making money. If they got a very small sum of money, they’d go and help, just to get that much.
Then they’d have the dinner and sit around and rest for a while. I’ll always remember donal mac’s grandfather. After his dinner was over, he used to sit backwards on the chair and sleep for a while. I’ll always remember, people used to mention it.
In the summer time, it doesn’t get dark until it’s very late a tnight. So theyd’ have tea at 5 or 6 at night. They’d have tin cans with a color ot put the tea into and then they’d bring some mugs and pour it out and the bread and butter or bread and jam. They had so little variety. And they would be hungry even though they had dinner. And then they’d eat a whole bunch of bread. They didn’t have a proper diet.
So then at night, when they come in, everyone sits in the kitchen because that’st he only place with heat. And you need heat most of the year around. Kitchen fire on the hearth.
If you’re there early, you’d get a good seat by the fire. And they’d just sit and chat. The men smoked pipes and everybody wouldn’t have a pipe, so when you finished, you’d give it to the next person.
It would be so crowded some times you could hardly move around the kitchen. If there were quite a few young people, someone might play the violin or someone might sing a song and that would be their amusement.
Q: And what time would they go to bed?
A: Pretty late. Yeah. It would be late. And then they slept late in the morning.
Q: So now at this point, there’s no electricity or running water in Ireland, right?
A: That’s right. They had kerosene lamps. Some places would have it set on a table or something. Then if someone could afford it, they’d have a hanging lamp on a big chain coming down. Sometimes some of the women would get together and do embroidery at night. They used to get pieces of material from town stamped and ready to embroider. They’d do that and get so much for each piece of embroidery. So they might have three or four or five women meet in one house at a time and take turns going to each other’s houses.
Q: It sounds like a pretty rough way to live. What were people doing for fun on the weekends?
A: When you went to Mass on Sunday, it took up a lot of the day because you had to travel. And the Mass was much longer then and the priests used to give a very long sermon. Of course, some of the people had to stay home because everybody couldn’t fit on the side car or whatever you had. And, of course, the animals had to be taken care of. If you had a lot of vegetables planted or something, the sheep and the cows could get into them if there wasn’t somebody there to watch. Then, the usual things had to be done like cleaning out the houses where the cows were at night and all that. Everybody had chickens and they’d be let out in the morning and they had to be fed. A woman would go out with a big pail of stuff and take handfuls and throw it around and they’d run to get it.
Q: How did people get in town?
A: Most of the people walked.
Q: That’s a pretty far walk.
A: Well if you keep on going up Meenadreen, you could see some of the mountains, which go quite a distance. A lot of people lived up there. They’d walk from there even, down to Clar Chapel or into the town. You could imagine on rainy days they’d be just soaking. Some of the people used to carry their shoes with them and put them on when they got as far as the chapel.
Q: How many miles would that be?
A: Well, from where Donal McMullin lived, it would be about four miles from the town.
Q: So how long would it take?
A: When I used to walk every morning, we had a measured mile and it took me exactly 20 mins to do that.
Q: For one mile?
Q: So it would probably take about an hour and a half. Would they take carriages and things like that?
A: Well, only if they had them. Not everyone had a horse. We didn’t have a side car until after my brother Frank came to this country and he sent back the money to buy one.
Q: What exactly is a side car?
A: Well, it’s a horse-drawn car. In the middle up at the front, there’s a seat and the driver sits up there. Then there’s a seat on each side and two people sit in each seat. There’s not cover over it or anything, so if it rains it pours and you get wet. But most of those people up around the mountain didn’t have one. A lot of people walked.
Q: Sounds like everything was a lot of hard work. How did people make it through what seems like a pretty rough life, working all the time. Was it really as bad as it seemed?
A: They never knew anything different, you see. We didn’t know we were poor because we were just like everyone else.
Q: What kind of things are there back to relax, have fun, socialize?
A: The only thing would be on a winter’s evening, you might visit some of the neighbors and they’d make tea. And you’d sit and talk and that would be it. Tea and bread. There wasn’t any amusements in the town or anything. It was a very dull life, but people didn’t know any different.
Q: Do you remember at what point your father decided it was time to go back to the United States.
A: It was 16 years. Wait a minute though – one thing I left out. After a few years, when they money was gone, my father came back here by himself.
Q: Do you remember what year that was?
A: No. My brother Phonsey was born when my father was over here. My mother was pregnant with him when my father left. And so he would be about three years older than I am. I was born in 1912.
Q: So he probably went back around 1909. Why did he go back by himself to the US.
A: Because he just wanted to earn money. Don’t forget, they had nothing over here to come to. They had no home or anything here. He went over to work and send some money home.
Frank Boyle was the one my brother Frank came to this country with. He went over there and married Mary Ann MacMullen. He was having a house built. And I heard Donal Boyle say when I was over there, they were talking about when his father came back to this country. Well his children were all born in Ireland because he was married in Ireland. He said, there was no way my father could pay for that house once he went to America. And that’s why he went.
Everybody told my mother she ought to come to America because my father was there. And that he shouldn’t have left her there alone with kids. And they were going to have a baby. It was terrible, you know? She decided that she would rent the place out, which was a terrible mistake for her to try to do, because where could she go? She had sisters here that were married and all had families, so she couldn’t bring a big family into somebody else’s house. I only heard them talk about it in later years. So Donal Mac’s grandmother that lives in Meenadreen. My mother put the place up for rent. They had bill posters going around, putting circulars on trees that there was an auction coming up to rent or auction off or whatever. She went down to the priest to tell him what my mother was doing. Now, I don’t really know how that turned out, I was so young when I heard it. But anyway, she sent a telegram to my father over here that my mother was selling the place. And, of course, my father should have known my mother couldn’t sell it because his name was in it with hers. She was only going to rent it. And he immediately sent back to the auctioneer a message that said ‘Don’t sell my land.’ And he came right home to Ireland then.
Q: So she had no intentions of actually selling the house?
A: No. No, she couldn’t sell it.
Q: This house would have been the house in Aghlem?
A: Yeah. If you would call it that.
Q: What led up to the decision to go back to the United States in 1921?
A: My sister Marion told him that she was going to come to the United States. And he knew for a long time that he had made a terrible mistake in staying in Ireland. But he was stuck there. He had no way of getting out. He had no money. He had nothing to do. He didn’t want to give in that he had made a mistake. So he was glad of the fact that Marion had said she was going to leave. And he said, well fi you’re going, then John (the next oldest) would go, so we might as well all go.’
He was delighted to get out of there. But he just didn’t want to say, well we’re not making it here, we’ll have to go. He didn’t want to do that. Marion was a tremendous help because she earned money when she was old enough. She used to deliver the mail and she sewed. And my mother sewed. And that was about the only cash that was coming in. And when Frank came here, he did very well and he sent cash for. But all in all, there were so many of us to buy clothes for and anything.
Q: So how much might it cost to go from Ireland to the United States?
A: I have no idea.
Q: Do you have any idea how they got the money to go on that ship?
A: Yes, because my father sold the house and the farm and some livestock. Even chickens and ducks. It all helps. The little furnishings we had weren’t very valuable, but it all helped. I can remember the auctioneer going around, and a woman picked up a little mirror with a wooden frame around the edge. And she said to him, how much do you want for this. He said, ‘thre-pence’ – that’s three pence.
Q: Any idea how much the house sold for?
A: Well the house didn’t sell at the auction. Donal Mac’s grandfather gave him a bag of money – all gold soverings and that’s how he paid for it. The Mac’s had money. They had a little shop for one thing – it wasn’t a lot but there was money coming in every week from that. And what else they did, I don’t really know. But Donal’s great-grandfather had money. They lived miserly and saved.
Q: Do you think part of it was they wanted to help send the family off to a better life in the US?
A: Oh, heavens no. They were thinking about where they were going to send themselves.
The men tried to give their sons something. And of course, the best thing they can do if they’re farmers is to give them a farm. And each one of his sons got a farm. Now the house Donal Mac lives in, his grandfather gave it to his father. Jim, who had the shop and lived up at the head of the road, that’s Jim Mac, he was the oldest son and got the best place. The place with the shop and the farm and all. There was another son called Francie and he got our place. I don’t know why Patrick got a better place than Francie. He was the youngest. Maybe he was the favorite son, I don’t know. But Francie never got married – she probably didn’t like the house (laughing).
But anyway, Patrick didn’t get married for a long time either. He was quite a bit older than his wife. His wife is still a young-looking woman. She’s a very nice person.
Q: When people left Ireland, was it a sad goodbye?
A: When we were leaving?
A: Well, people knew the years my mother had to spend in Ireland were really hell for her. Really and truly. They were glad for her. Everybody liked my mother very much, and they were just very happy for her that she was getting out of there. If you saw the house alone, you’d say it’s good for anybody to get out of there. The morning we were leaving, the family was living in Aghlem in our old homestead, my grandparents house. They all came around before the went to school that morning to say goodbye. Some people came the night before to pick up things they had bought at the auction. The night before, one of your grandfather’s sisters and one of your grandfather’s cousins came to pick up hens they had bought and they had a big basket like they used to use to put potatoes in. They were running around the street outside trying to catch the hens to take. So that’s how it was at the end. They were telling us how lucky we were to be leaving and thigns like that. Some people came and brought gifts.
Q: So the overwhelming feeling was it was good to leave. It was a smart thing to do and get on to a better life.
A: Well, some of the children had born in the United States. Marion was born here, my brother John was born here. And Frank had been in the army and been over to France and everything. So really there had been a lot of the United States in them.
Q: Do you remember when you left Aghlim, where you went to get that ship to take you to the US?
A: Well, we went into Donegal Town first. The man who sold the house for us sent his car to take us. He did it because he wanted to and he had taken care of our business. We got a train from there, I think, to Belfast. We stayed there overnight, then I think the ship went to England. It was very exciting going on the ship. It was the first trip for the ship to make and everything was brand new. You could smell all kinds of oil and stuff. Seemed like things were burning and all that. And of course, the ship was absolutely immense. Just going around and seeing everything was exciting. Then when we were on the ship, I don’t know how long, there was some other ship that was disabled that was supposed to go out and couldn’t go or something. And there were quite a few people from our neighborhood that were supposed to be coming over on it. I’ll call that Ship No. 2. So our ship went up to Canada. No. It went someplace else and took on a bunch of passengers. But anyway, it was great to meet all these people from home after we had just left. So that was something unexpected.
Q: What was the journey itself like?
A: It took longer than the usual time because it was the first trip the boat had made and it had to go slowly. It seemed to me it was supposed to be eight days for the trip and it took us 10. I wouldn’t swear to that, but that’s what’s in my mind about it.
Q: What went on during those days?
A: Well, of course, most of the activity was at night and I didn’t see much of anything. They had music and dancing and stuff like that. We had great big dining rooms and they had chefs serving the meals. That was something we had never seen before. The food was wonderful and they lots of it. We had porridge for breakfast and tea and bread. We may have had eggs too. And meat and vegetables for dinner. In the evening, they used to ring a bell, and you’d come. Porridge was a great meal at night. So they had porridge and crackers and cheese and different things like that. And I know they had music and dancing. The trip was wonderful. It was so exciting for us. And what fascinated us were people from other countries were traveling. And to hear them talking different languages – it was all new to us to hear anything but English. There were many things like that that were really exciting.
Q: What were the sleeping arrangements like?
A: They had bunk beds. One up over the other. The families weren’t all together. They had to arrange them the best way they could because you had to have the rooms either all-men or all-women. My sister Marion and I were together and there were some other women. I don’t know where the rest of the family was.
Q: Anything else about the boat ride that stands out?
A: They used to make announcements that everybody had to appear on board and bring their citizenship papers. The head of the family would go for the meetings. And also you had to declare whatever money you had. Of course, you didn’t want to do that. They had ways of hiding the money, tying it in the belt around their waists and things like that. And I remember hearing them talk about that.
I guess you’re not supposed to have over a certain amount coming in.
Q: So you arrived in Ellis Island?
A: No, we didn’t. Now that’s something that’s an important point. We were already citizens.
Q: Why were you citizens?
A: Because my parents were married and they had become citizens.
Q: So you were considered an American citizen?
A: Not just considered. I was an American citizen.
Q: Even though you were born in Ireland?
A: I’m not a naturalized citizen. I’m a United States citizen born on foreign soil.
Q: So where did the ship actually dock?
A: New York. And we went to Boston by train. We got off and then the ship went to Ellis Island.
Q: Do you remember the first time you saw US soil?
A: The first thing I remember is my mother and my sister Marion said, ‘Oh, there’s the Statue of Liberty.’ They were really happy and excited. It meant so much to them because Marion was 10 years old when they went over [to Ireland] to live and she just hated everything about it. And then she worked so hard over there to help support the family – it was a great thing to get back here.
Q: What was it like for you?
A: It was just a very happy feeling and full of excitement. At nine years old, you’re a kid, you know? I knew that my mother and Marion were so happy that I should feel happy. And we went to my Aunt Kate’s house – my mother’s sister – in Watertown. We didn’t all go there. She said we could all come to their house. They didn’t have a really big house. We took a train from NY to Boston and then my brother Frank and a cousin of ours met us there. Then my father and my brother John stayed with them. And the rest of us all went to my Aunt Kate’s house in Watertown. So my mother’s other sister from West Quincy came to Watertown on a Sunday. They were all excited to see my mother and everything. We had a very exciting day, talking to my mother and all. I remember we had room for dessert at dinner. We had ice cream. And of course we had never even heard about ice cream before. So Uncle Don said, ‘Oh, this is good, it tastes just like snow.’
Of course they were listening to every word, picking it up to hear how we were talking and everything. So they took me home with them to relieve my Aunt Kate of one kid anyway. I was the one that went because they had mostly girls in the family at home. And they wanted to take me. And Ita, of course, was only three years old, so I was the one that went. So that was that.
Q: So you ended up living where exactly?
A: Well, my brother Frank had hired a flat as they called it then, in Roxbury. He had it all there for us. And I think he had bought some of the furniture and my father went with him and they bought the rest of the real necessities. And it was a wonderful big flat. There were a lot of rooms in it. It must have been like a residential hotel at one time. The name of it was the Hotel Vine. We had so much room and everything there. It was great after what we came from. And, of course, a lot of the people knew we were coming back – relatives and the close friends and people. So for the first while we were there, there were people coming every day and every night and most of them brought gifts. We came in May so it was too near the end fo the school year by the time we got to Roxbury and got there. So we didn’t go to school until September. I went to St. Patrick’s School in Roxbury. It was my best year I ever had in school.
Q: Why was that?
A: Because I liked everything about it. So anyway, the rent was quite high for the apartment. What they wanted to do was to get a house. I don’t know how my father got the money to buy the house – I suppose Frank gave some of it, I don’t really know how he did it. Houses were cheap, of course, compared to what they are now. And you didn’t have to pay a lot down. My father got a job right away.
Q: Where did he work?
A: He worked for John T. Connors. It was a chain store owned by an Irishman, Mike O’Keefe. And later, O’Keefe merged with three or four other companies.
Q: The store was in Roxbury?
A: Well, he didn’t work in the store. He worked in the warehouse. It was a grocery business. He worked in Boston.
Q: What exactly was his job in the warehouse.
A: I think he worked in the shipping department. I couldn’t tell you precisely. He probably did different jobs. It was a laboring job.
Q: How long did he have that job?
A: Until he died.
Q: At the same job and the same warehouse?
A: No. John T. Connors merged with about three or four companies. So then it became the First National Stores. And I went to work in the First National Stores office when I graduated from high school. My father was still there and they wanted to give him a pension. He was a very good worker. A lot of times these warehouses have guys that go out and drink on their dinner time and stuff like that. My father had a very good record. He never missed a day from work or anything. He wasn’t there too long when they started giving him a regular bonus, which was really very surprising for the length of time that he was there. So one time they wanted to give him a pension and they thought he was really getting too old to work. And he said, ‘No pension for me. I’m going to work until I die.’ That was just the way it was.
Q: Why? Most people would probably just take it.
A: Well, I guess he just wanted to be independent. And, of course, a pension would never be anything like a week’s pay. It wouldn’t be as much money. He worked Sundays. He used to work 10 hours a day and seven days a week in the beginning. And later on, the laws were changed and people could only work so many hours.
One Sunday, he didn’t come home from work when he was supposed. We knew that he was getting feeble and everything. But he did what he wanted to do. So my mother and Ita and I were there waiting for him, and the phone rang. I answered it and he was in the Cambridge Hospital. At that time, he was a security man. And they had some kind of a system where he had to go around the building every hour and he rang from different places, letting them know everything was all right and that he was on the job and everything. So he didn’t ring in, and, of course, they went looking for him. He had passed out. They took him to the hospital.
Q: Had he fallen down?
A: Yes, I think he had fallen. He wasn’t injured from the fall though. But he was sort of bewildered. I guess he really passed out.
So anyway, I don’t know how long he was in the hospital. Just a short while. The company was sending a man to see him when he came home. They did everything they could for him. They got specialists and they found out he had a prostate problem. In those days, they didn’t have regular examinations or anything like they do now. And it was malignant. But he was well into his 70s and that was old then. My mother and father both died around their mid-70s. And when somebody made 80, it was really a record.
So anyway, the man came to the house several times, but my father wasn’t home that long. And he came one day and he said he could see that my father was failing. Well, we knew that he was too. And he said he really should be in the hospital. So they sent him back to the hospital again, which was the best place for him because we couldn’t really take care of him. And he died very soon, probably of prostate cancer.
Q: How long was he sick for?
A: From the time that he fell at work, it was probably about a month. It was just as well that he went as quickly as he did, because he wasn’t going to get any better. They had lots of doctors for him and everything but there was nothing that could be done.
Q: Let’s talk about school in Roxbury. I’d imagine there were a lot of people there born from other countries.
A: Oh, no. There was nobody from other countries. Only me. There weren’t a lot of others coming into that area, mostly just Irish families.
Q: Being the only immigrant from Ireland, was there any kind of discrimination?
A: Oh no. They all thought I was wonderful and they wanted me to tell stories. And when the priest would come in to visit, they would tell him that I was a girl from Ireland. Oh, I was the bell of the ball.
Q: So what was school like?
A: I’d say it’s very much the same. Well, I’ll tell you one thing. The class I was in had 64 children. Eight rows across and eight up and down. Sixty-four children. Now, it’s very limited.
Q: Were the sisters teaching the class strict?
A: Very strict.
Q: Were they hitting kids?
A: They did occasionally. That I didn’t like. Well, they never hit me. But I mean, I didn’t believe in that. They did so much of that in Ireland. They had a cane. And it wasn’t just for discipline. They’d have a group standing around in a circle and the teacher would hear the spelling and give everyone a word. If you misspelled the word, you got a whack with the cane on your hand.
Q: This was in Ireland?
Q: Now back in Ireland before you left, what were some of the political things going on between Catholics and Protestants?
A: Well, they never had any kind of trouble in Donegal. I was too young to take much interest in what was going on. It’s certainly true that a certain number of Protestants really and truly hated the Catholics. There was a lot of Protestant people around where we lived. But some of them were just wonderful people. They were better than your own kind. Really, you would have to admit that.
My mother got to know a lot of the women. They all made friends with my mother. You might be interested in this. I don’t know how it started. When a woman was about to have a baby, they’d have to send for the doctor. Somebody might have to walk to where the doctor was. Many times, the baby would be born before the doctor got there. I don’t know why they expected, but they thought that because my mother grew up and got what education she got in this country that she knew more about all those things than the people there did. So instead of wanting their next-door neighbor, they’d want my mother to come. It really got to be so that men would come to the door begging my mother to come because their wives were about to have a baby. And she would get dressed and go out, it would be dark at night and she’d have to go through fields and all that. I think it went on right up until the time we left there.
Q: So before you came to America, was there much turmoil between Catholics and Protestants?
A: Well, they celebrate the 12th of July. It was some victory the Protestants won. I don’t know much about it, but it’s a big day for the Protestants. I can even remember as a kid, people coming to the house asking my sister Marion to make them some new clothes for the 12th. And they used to go to Ashnella? It’s a beautiful beach that’s near Donegal Town. See, the people didn’t have very many clothes in those days. If the woman got a new blouse or a top, she could wear a skirt that wasn’t too new. I remember people asking her, could you make me a new blouse for the 12th
Q: Did that cause a lot of problems?
A: Well I can remember for a while before the 12th, there would be people who would go out beating drums and marching along the roads. And we’d say, they’re getting ready for the 12th. When Uncle Don came to Ireland to retire, he said he was anxious to know what goes on up in the north for the celebration of the 12th because that’s when they like to show their hatred for the Catholics. He said it was unbelievable the things they had on the radio, cursing the Pope and stuff like that. Swears and dirty language. He said he was just the worst you could ever imagine. He said, you’d have to hear it to believe it. So the hatred is there.
Q: Can you tell the story about your brother and the Black and Tans?
A: Oh, people still talk about that. It was right in the neighborhood. My brother John was working out in one of the fields owned by William Gillespie. Two men came along and they started to question him. They said to him, ‘did two men go by here at 10 this morning’ or whatever time it was. And he said, ‘well I didn’t see anybody.’ And they kept on asking him, ‘well, are you sure? Well, how about around 10 o’clock. Did anybody go by then?’ And they went on and on with questions like that. And they were getting angrier and angrier because they weren’t getting any information. The questioning out on the roadside lasted a long time. So then they took him into the buyer beside the cows and told him to kneel down. Then they talked to each other about shooting him. And you could imagine – I think he was 15 years old by then. And, of course, he never spoke only to say yes or no to whatever questions they asked him. But he was really terrified. So they said, ‘well I think you should kneel right there.’ And then another would say, ‘No, I think we’ll put him over there.’ And they went on with that kind of thing. And I guess they thought that eventually if he knew anything, he would tell it. And I think at the end, they were convinced he didn’t know anything. So they said, ‘Oh well, I think we’ll let him go.’ He didn’t get over that for a long time. He used to have nightmares and everything.
Q: Were the two men Black and Tans?
A: No, I don’t know. They could have been. I remember the Black and Tans rode what was called a motorlorry, which was like a big truck. And a whole load of htem would come ridign through the country. And they had dirt roads at that time. And the roads were not very secure so when they drove, it would make big ridges in the road, the thing was so heavy. It made a lot of noise.
The Black and Tans were in Donegal Town at one time. One day, we heard they were coming out to the country and they came along in the truck. And oh, it made such a noise, you could hear it. And the schoolmaster – he was scared to death. He didn’t know whether they’d come in and shoot us or what they would do. But it slowed down and then it went right by.
But they used to go into some of the stores in town and take some of the merchandise and just throw it out in the streets. They did all kinds of things. It was terrible. And nobody could do anything about it. They were all people that were in jail that were released just to come out to torture the Catholics.
Q: We talked about school in Roxbury. What were the neighbors like in America?
A: Very much like ourselves, really. It was strange. We lived in St. Patrick’s parish and they used to have a bizarre during the summer. It was all outdoors and they used to have tables with merchandises. They had chances for 10 cents a chance and so on. My sister Marion went over there and she was walking around and this woman came up to her and said, ‘Are you Marion Cassidy?’ And she said, yes. And she said she was in St. Patrick’s School with my sister Marion before she went to Ireland. And Marion was in Ireland 16 years and that woman recognized her.
But I loved St. Patrick’s Church, and I loved the school. I made friends. I wasn’t exactly happy about moving.
Q: Where did you move to?
A: To Dorchester. But of course, you had to get used to it and that was it.
Q: Roxbury and Dorchester must have been a lot different then than they are now.
A: In Roxbury there had been a lot of old apartment houses on Warren Street, a main street. And they were condemned and a lot of them were being torn down. So the people went to Dorchester. And the way it worked was, from what I heard people say, if black people moved in next door to you, you immediately put your house on the market for sale. So the turnover was so great and it all happened in such a short time that Dorchester was full of black people.
Now the street we lived on was a lovely street all big one-family houses and very nice. Now, I don’t know how many years I was married, but probably less than 10 years. And one day, I think it was your father with Ita and me. We had come to Dorchester to visit – we were all out of state then. Ita was driving and she stopped on the corner where we lived. And there was no house. We couldn’t believe it. There was a family of Italian descent who bought the house. We sat there for a minute. And the house directly across the street was missing. And the house behind that was partly burnt. And that’s how the neighborhood was. And see, it changed so quickly because people wanted to get out of there when the black people came in.
Q: Do you remember what the name of the street was you lived on in Roxbury?
A: Yes, Vine Street. It’s a short street. There’s a big municipal building there and a public library in one big building. It was very near St. Patrick’s Church.
Q: So when did you move from Roxbury to Dorchester.
A: We were only in Roxbury from May (1921) until March (1922). Not even a year.
Q: And why did you move?
A: Because my father wanted to put the money into a house rather than pay the lot for rent. I was very happy in Roxbury though.
Q: Where in Dorchester?
A: It was near the Oliver Wendell Holmes School. That’s the junior high school I went to.
Q: Do you remember the street name?
A: Yes, Athelwold Street. And Washington Street is the nearest main street. You’d turn onto School Street and go a short distance and that comes into Athelwold Street, which goes to the left of the school.
Q: Big Irish community?
A: No, not as much as Roxbury.
Q: What was the makeup there?
A: Well, I really don’t know. This was a little higher-grade of people, most of them born in this country. Whereas in Roxbury there were a lot of Irish-born people.
Roxbury was old houses. And I remember the way the kids were dressed was different.
Q: What kind of house was it?
A: A 10-room house. When the cousins came from Ireland, they used to come and stay at our house for a while until they got situated. Some of them, a couple of first-cousins, stayed for quite a long time because they weren’t married. One of them died later on and one of them got married. He lived near us.
Q: How long did you live in Dorchester?
A: Until I got married. My father died in January of that year. I was going to get married in June and Uncle Don was going to be ordained at that time. So then my mother put the house up for sale after my father died because it would be just her and Ita then. All the others were gone. So my mother moved to Bayonne to my sister Marion’s and I went to live in New York. And my mother used to come and visit me often. And I would visit her too.
One time, my mother came to spend a week with us. She hadn’t been very well for a long time. She had a heart problem and was on some kind of medication. But they didn’t have all the things they have now for heart patients. But anyway, I got my doctor to prescribe some medication for her. But she went downhill pretty fast and she died. That was a very bad experience for me. I was very, very close to my mother. The day before she died, she said, ‘Eileen, wouldn’t it be strange if I came here to die with you.’ And of course, that was the worst thing she could have said to me. I had to leave the room when she said it. But she went and that was it. It was a very sad day for me. Very. But my mother was very religious. She always prayed a lot. She used to say three rosaries every day. One in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening. For years, she did that. And during the time she was with me before she died, she used to recite the Litany for the Dying. And she used to say it out loud. I’d hear her say it over and over and over again. So I guess she was well prepared to go. We had a Catholic doctor, he was very nice. So that was it. Certainly, when she came to visit me, I didn’t think she was going to die so soon or anything.
Q: It just came up all of a sudden?
A: Well, she hadn’t been well for a long time. And she was on medication.
I wouldn’t hope to live to be so that my family had to take care of me. I just hope I will be able to take care of myself while I live and that’s why I do everything to take care of my health. And I’m so careful about going out in the bad weather and everything else. Because if I get sick, I’d be a burden to somebody, so I try to do my best. So when I go, you wouldn’t feel sorry. I mean it. Because I’m 91 years old now. I’ve been very lucky. Very lucky. Outside of not being able to walk well, I really have good health. My memory is pretty good. So I feel I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had a good life. And when it ends, it ends.
But the morning my mother died – it was a Sunday morning. The doctor came in. Of course, I was just so stunned. He said to me, ‘We’re born to die.’ Which of course is the truth. He said there’s such rejoicing when a child is born intot he world and then there’s the sorrow when they go out. So you have to take what comes. We all know we’re not going to live forever. And you think you’ll never get old. But that’s the way it is.
Q: What was it like living through the Great Depression and World War II?
A: Well, wages were very low at that time. My first raise was a dollar a week. I got 12 dollars to start with. And that was wonderful just to get the job and make any money at all. A lot of the people who graduated with me went years without any kind of job. But that was the real Depression years – 1929. That was the year they called The Crash. From then on, things were very bad and if you had any kind of job at all, it was wonderful. The raises came very seldom but a dollar raise – a dollar was a dollar. You could do so much with a dollar at that time.
Uncle Don was saying one time that he remembered when my mother would send him to the store for a quart of milk and a loaf of bread. She would give him a quarter and he’d get a penny change.
Q: When the Stock Market crashed, how did the family get through it?
A: Well, it didn’t affect my family too much because my father had a steady job. And then I was just starting to work. So, little as it seems, what I brought in was a big help. When you knew what you could do for a quarter, imagine what you could do for five dollars. So it didn’t affect us very much at all, really.
Of course, everything started getting scarce and food was rationed. You had to have tickets to get anything you wanted. The quota would allow you so much and you could get tickets or coupons or whatever they called them at the time.
Meat was very scarce. Lots of times you wouldn’t have any meat. The people used to fight over it. They’d hear that a supply was going to come into a certain store on a certain day. And sometimes they’d just be rumors. People would go in and line up outside the stores. And then they’d start fighting and saying you took my place and you got ahead of me and things like that. A lot of disturbing things like that went on because everyone was upset anyway about not getting food and having to wait so long – and sometimes for nothing. A lot of them of course had somebody in their family laid off and they were very short of money besides. So thigns in general were very bad for the majority of people.
Q: What was the name fo the place you worked at again?
A: When I went to work, it was called First National Stores.
Q: And where was that?
A: In Somerville – right by here.
Q: Where in Somerville?
A: I forget the street address but it was like a little village. They went out of business a little while after we moved here, but that was a lot of years.
They had John T. Connors and they had O’Keefe’s and Ginter’s. They had all those stores and they merged and became First National Stores. Then later they started the supermarkets and still ran under First National Stores. And they did very well for many years.
Then the competition became great and we heard that some of the people they had hired were not ambitious or they didn’t care. They lost a lot through that, through not having the right people.
They hired some Jewish people. And they claimed that from the time they took on Jewish people – of course, there was so much bigotry too and other people thought if they were hiring Jews now, they wouldn’t buy from them.
Q: What was your job like?
A: I did many things. I did billing. Typing. And of course some filing in the beginning, then I graduated into other things, regular office machines. General office work, I would say.
Q: What was life like for you when you were in your 20s?
A: Well you didn’t have much in the way of trips or vacations. You were just so glad to have enough money to put food on the table. People like us didn’t even think about things like that. There was very little in the line of recreation. People went to movies. We had radio. Radio was wonderful. IN the summer, people went to the beach. There were a lot of free beaches people could go to. And of course, there were very few cars and people would walk distances to go to beaches. They might get streetcars. You could ride a good distance for 10 cents. Go in for 10 cents, come home for 10 cents. Some places you could get a transfer if you lived farther away. People spent a lot of time in their homes then. There was just not the activity because there wasn’t much money.
I went to work at 17. Uncle Don went to Boston College. Ita went to a four-year high school. She graduated when she was 18. Then she wanted to be a dental nurse, so she went to the Boston School of Dental Nursing for one year. She graduated and she worked in that line for quite a while. She had wanted to go to college. I never knew what happened, but I knew she took an exam and I think maybe she just didn’t make it. I don’t know how it would have been financially anyway, whether she really would have been able to go or not.
So the way she went to college was, after I was married, she lived with us. My mother had died. I was married a few years before then. And she came to live with us. By living with us and working as a dental nurse, she was able to get through college.
Q: How long did you work at First National?
A: Until I got married. They gave me $500 for a gift when I was leaving. And the girls working there gave me $100. That was a fortune. It really was.
Back at that time, unions were forming at different companies. Of course, none of the big companies wanted to pay their help any more than they absolutely had to. So then the companies started organizing unions. It caused a lot of trouble, but it turned out to be a help to the average working man. The hourly wage got to be more, and that was very good.
During World War II, a lot of men were not paid by the hour, they were paid by the week. My father had worked as much as 10 hours a day. And I think for a while, he worked 7 days a week. So then, Franklin Roosevelt changed it and said the hours had to be cut, but the men had to get as much money as they were making before. It was a great help to the people who were working.
Q: So when you got married, how did the two of you meet?
A: Well our families knew each other from way, way back. And my sister Marion was married to your Uncle Andy. We used to go back and forth to New York and they used to come to us. I didn’t go with him for a long time. I went with other fellows and I told you about the one I was going to get married to and all of that.
I was too young to be interested in him. He was much older than I was. Well, after many years I had dated different people and all of that, my mother and I were down to Bayonne to where my sister Marion lived. And your grandfather came to see me. For all those years, he was hoping sometime we’d be able to get together. I always thought that he was nice, but I never thought of getting married to him or anything. But I do remember when he was at our house when my sister Marion got married, he was the best man and I was the maid of honor. He bought me two boxes of chocolates.
So anyway, that’s about all there is to tell you.
Q: And that was the first wedding Uncle Don ever presided over.
A: He said his first Mass on Sunday and we were married the following Tuesday.
Q: What was the wedding like?
A: Well, we didn’t have any big reception or anything because we had the reception for the first Mass on Sunday. And you couldn’t invite the same people back. And you wouldn’t want to go through all that again. So it was a very quiet wedding with street clothes. I wasn’t going to appear in a bridal gown after the first Mass. And my father had died just before that and everything. So that was that. We got married in St. Leo’s church, the church wwe had been going to for years. And we went to Niagara Falls on our honeymoon. And we came back to New York then and we got an apartment and shopped for furniture and everything. And that was that.
Q: What was Uncle Don’t ordination like?
A: He was ordained in Washington at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. We all went to Washington, the whole family and a lot of relatives and friends. Then we came back. My mother stayed in Bayonne instead of coming home with us. They wanted her to stay that because it was a rest for her before she made the rest of the trip. And Ita and I went back to our own house. Our cousin Annie was living with us at the time. I had just quit work because I was getting married. Before my mother came home, I had taken the whole house apart and cleaned it from top to bottom so it would be all set before she came home. Because we were going to have people over for the wedding. It was all a long and exciting time for us all.
Q: And what was it like to have someone in the family become a priest?
A: Really, there was nothing terribly unusual.
Q: When you got married, why did you move to New York?
A: Because Frank was living in New York City and Marion was living in New Jersey. They were near each other.
Q: What part of New York did you move to?
A: West Bronx for 12 years and then we moved to New Jersey. We were glad to get away from NYC and we lived in NJ for quite a while. The reason we came back here was because Jimmy and Donald had grown up. Jimmy was already living up here. When he went for his masters, part of his time was spent up here in Children’s Hospital. Donald would visit him when he could. And after a while, Jimmy started asking Donald if he’d like to live in Boston, too.
So at first, they didn’t know how we’d like it, Frank and I. And of course I was simply delighted because I belonged in Boston. Frank very much liked Boston.
My father died in January. Uncle Don was ordained in June. I was married in June. All these plans were made before my father died.
Q: What was the Bronx like?
A: We were there after the war, when things were beginning to pick up. People were getting jobs that never had jobs before. It was a very prosperous time for many years.
There’s Bronx and then there’s Bronx. The East Bronx and the West Bronx are like two different cities. The East Bronx went down years ago. I guess that was where people lived earlier and the homes got old and rundown. And then it became troublesome. It was a place people looked down on.
And the West Bronx was altogether different – and all much newer houses. The apartment house we lived in was only a few years old when we went to live there. So there’s a big diff bt the two if anyone ever tells you abnuot the Bronx.
Q: What were the neighbors like?
A: Very much like ourselves. About the same circumstances snd they lived the same way as we did.
Q: Was it predominantly Irish?
A: No, it was mixed. But there weren’t any black people. And I don’t think there were any Jewish people around where we lived either. It was a friendly neighborhood. There were a lot of nice people.
Q: When did you move to Boston?
A: Well, Jim was working up here [Boston]. And Donald worked for an accounting firm in New Jersey. He got a transfer to Boston with the same company. He was still quite young then.
Q: Around the 1920s and 1930s, what kind of communications did you keep with people back in Ireland?
A: Nothing. It died out with the years. I remember when my father’s brothers died. You’d hear now and then that one of them had died. My mother didn’t have anybody there because she was the youngest of her family. And of course there were relatives there but she was so young when she came here that she didn’t keep up with any of them. Two sisters came with her and they were a good deal older because they went right to work when they came. And my mother went to live with another married sister that was here already. Now when we came back, the whole family came to this country. I told you my brother had an apt ready for us that we lived in in Roxbury at first. But when my aunt heard that we were coming here, (my mother had written and told her we were coming), she wrote back and said we could all come to her house. And of course, that was tremendous, the whole gang of us.
I had an older brother that had come here before. I told you he sneaked away, my father didn’t know he was leaving.
He met us in new york and a cousin of ours was with him. But my aunt was in Massachusetts, so then we had to take a train all that distance after getting off the boat. We were on the train all night. So some of them went with my brother and my cousin. My father did and my older brothers. Then my aunt from west quincy was there with her family and she took me home with them. In a very short time, they were in the apartment.
But I still stayed in quincy for a little while because they wanted me to stay. They were fascinated with the girl from Ireland. They made me say my prayers in irish and all of this. Everybody that came into the house talked to me. I liked a lot of it, but a lot of it got to be too much for me.
I didn’t like some of the food. We went there on Sunday, and on Monday morning they gave me baked beans for breakfast. Everybody used to back them themselves and that was the traditional thing for Saturday night. I ddin’t like the baked beans. So then they put ketchup on them to see if I liked them better, and that was worse.
But they ate very well. They had very good food and I did enjoy the meat and vegetables and all the other things. One of my cousins made me a new dress. Her mother gave her the money to buy all the things. She bought me shoes and white socks. But anyway, I had a hold new outfit. Oh, and a hat with ribbon around it and streamers hanging down the back. And my aunt takes me in on street cars into Roxbury and here I am in the daytime dressed up like that and everybody’s looking at me all over the place. That was really an experience I didn’t quite enjoy. Except I’m sure a lot of them were laughing.
Q: When you returned to Ireland in the ‘50s, how had things changd from the way you left it in 1921?
A: There wasn’t a great deal of hange then. Just like in this country there hadn’t been a great deal of change because of the war. And they were just as poor as they were before we left. The prosperity in Ireland came on very suddenly after the war. People in this country weren’t able to go home to Ireland during the war. Then they started flocking over there and that made business. They started with the bed and breakfasts which was a big help for people that hada house and they could take in a few people and make a few dollars.
There were girls that could do the irish hand embroidery and there was demand for that. People were buying that. It really was this country that helped Ireland, but it took time, of course. It was gradual but it did help. and it did take a while after the war.
Q: What were some of the experiences you had whe you were in Ireland that summer in the 50s?
A: There was really nothing. Your father and jimmy really and truly, thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. they went out in the fields with the men and saw them working machinery and digging and they just loved it. they had a horse and a donkey at their grandmother’s house. And they had cows and chickens. They had all kinds of stuff. Jimmy used to go quite a distance away from the house with the men working. But Donald didn’t go so far. He was just five years old and wasn’t quite up to doing as much as jimmy did. But jimmy was mad about everything that was going, he was so excited. Donald was excited too, but Donald was not as excitable anyway.
Q: Who was over there in Donegal then?
A: Well, an awful lot of McMullen’s, old and young. Because their family, the oldest ones had grown up and married and there were still more kids coming. And the cassidy’s that lived in Aghlem beside us – you’ve heard us talking about john p. and annie and them, that’s my father’s brother’s family. And that was the old homestead where my grandfather came from.
The mcmullen’s lived around different places. You know whwer eyou went when you saw donal. They didn’t have that house then, but it was Donald mc’s grandfather that owned that house. He didn’t own it then, he bought it later. But he owned the one up the hill further where Briney lived.
Maggie Ellen was there and I told you the story about her mother and father. And how her mother stayed in bed for years and made the father stay with her. Do you remember that story?
A: There’s no good in telling you these stories. You don’t remember them. You should write them down.
Q: That’s why I’m tape-recording this.
A: Well, of course, I’ve heard it so many times and told differently and it’s so many years, that I don’t have it all exactly. They lived in Scotland when they first got married – Maggie ellen’s mother and father. the name was Gillespie. The house of Maggie ellen now belongs to William and kate, they were brothers of her mother and father. William and kate were living there then. The house was left to Maggie ellen by William and kate, because she took care of them.
Maggie Ellen’s mother wasn’t real sick. She was having a baby and the doctors used to come to the house. He’d just said something to him about taking a little rest. She thought she was supposed to rest forever so she didn’t get out of bed.
Q: What do you mean never?
A: Never. I mean never.
Q: How long did she stay in bed?
A: Well I’ll tell you as much as I can. The father was the kind that would just give in to everything. It’s good to see a man be good to his wife, but not when it doesn’t make any sense. During the day time, he used to sit at the end of the bed and after a while they got the idea that they’d put a chair there and he’d put his feet on the chair and sit on the edge of the bed. At night when it got dark, he’d go down to the river to get water. But he wouldn’t go out until after dark because he was afraid he’d see somebody he knew. And literally speaking he had a beard down to his knees by the time he got out of bed. But I remember just before we left Ireland, his wife was sick and he was failing very rapidly. Different people got interested in trying to do something to break up this terribly spell. And I remember them talking about an ambulance they had brought out from the town, and they wanted to take the woman in. and she became violent and screamed and was pulling the hair out and they had to leave her. So then another while went by, but I think it was after we left they got into the hospital and she died very shortly after they got in there. But it was many years – maybe, well, she was maybe born a year before we left, so it was another year or two after that before they got her to the hospital. And the husband I think had to go into the hospital too, because he was malnourished. People used to come and bring food and the girl, Maggie ellen’s sister, would go out with a tin can and ahandle over the top. And she would go to a different house every day to ask for flour to make bread. It was very sad. It was terrible. And the people that were giving it really couldn’t spare it themselves because everybody was so poor at that time. But everybody shared a little anyway. And I can remember my father going over with porridge at night in a tin can covered over. And he said the man laid down on the floor in front of the fire – that was after his wife died. He said that he needed the food so badly it was terrible.
So they had him in the hospital for quite a while. They took off his beard. Now when we went over with your father and your uncle, we went up to mcmullen’s one day – donal’s grandfather’s house. And the oldest girl at the time walked down with us over to our old house where we lived and then over the hill. We were right by their house where the gillespie’s lived. He and his daughter were sitting on a ditch outside and he was bent way over, I suppose his back got weak sitting with nothing to lean on. I mean, isn’t that really a terrible story?
A: And it’s all true. And it’s such a wonderful thing that Maggie Ellen is so well off compared to the life that she had in her early years. Of course, she got the house. It was given to her by relatives. The man she married had absolutely nothing, but he becamse rich walking into her house. And they were very happy and cared very much for each other. He had a farm there.
Then they had two children: a girl and a boy. And they’ve added to the house, two rooms to the back.
On Sunday nights, my father used to go down to Arneygets Lane. It’s very close to Aghlem. It was all Protestant people. He used to always go to their houses on Sunday evenings. I don’t know why. It was an odd thing to go there every Sunday, but he did. Before any of them went out on Sundays – all grownups went out on Sunday nights and the young kids were at home with my mother – they all used to kneel down together and say the rosary before they left. It was part of Sunday. You did that.
Then, my mother used to tell us stories about this country [America]. She couldn’t think that she could tell us when my father was around. But I could remember saying when I was getting just old enough to start paying attention, that the chairs over there had wheels underneath then and you could push them around. And of course we had never seen anything like that. You know how you think about things after. One time I said to my mother, when you had all these nice chairs, why did you give them away. And my father was right there.
Q: One big issue in Ireland over the past few decades have been The Troubles.
A: Oh, yes, well that’s a terrible thing. Innocent people, children going to school and getting shot. It’s an awful thing.
There have been so many times when they thought things were beginning to look good. I’m not being one-sided about it because I don’t know enough about it. but from what I’ve really tried to listen to and read about is when things are quiet and an agreement’s been made about certain things, it’s always the protestants who break it. remember not even two years ago, there was a catholic school built in a protestant area. Well, they shouldn’t have done that in the beginning. The protestants are so bigoted that they were just glad the chance to do something. And I wonder why they ever did that.
But there are only a small group of protestants that are doing that. But they’re pushing the others out to do that with them. Uncle don told us one time about this protestant woman who was going to bresnala, one of the places where they march. And she was inviting some of the catholic women to go with her. The protestant woman didn’t know the reason why they were going. She just thought it was a parade, a good time, excitement.
I know the 12th of july is supposed to be the anniversary of some war. The protestant people, even people we knew that were very good people, they used to practice up and down the road with the drums and everything, getting used to the holiday. The protestants around us were the best people you could find. You could depend on them a lot more than you could on some fo the catholics. You wpouldn’t hear them swearing. You wouldn’t even hear the men say, ‘dammit,’ or anything. They were a lot more refined than the Irishmen. So these protestant men, they’re not making trouble. But maybe they had to put on a show.
I remember we had some protestant people visiting us one time. They were talking about the Troubles and everything. And the protestant man said, “I don’t know what they’re fighting about, and they don’t’ know what they’re fighitn about either.” And that’s so true.