In 1952, my dad (Donald Cassidy, age 5) and uncle (Jim Cassidy, age 7) visited Ireland for the first time. Their parents (my grandparents) were Frank Cassidy of Leghowney and Eileen Cassidy of Aughlim. Both were born in Donegal and had settled in America and were returning for the first time in decades to introduce their two sons to their Irish roots.
One day, Eileen took the two boys to the Copany School, which both she and Frank had attended as small children. Class was in session, but not for long. The two American boys, wearing matching coats, were a long way from their city apartment on Heath Avenue in the Bronx. But the bare-foot rural Irish students couldn’t have been happier to welcome them to their two-room schoolhouse, even if perhaps motivated by the prospect of free candy and missed classroom time.
Seventy years later, I re-discovered a few black-and-white photos of that day among the boxes of my grandparents’ saved albums. The most striking photo is the group shot of my dad and uncle and about 30 Copany School students, all with smiles on their faces. It must have been quite a day.
I asked my uncle to recall what he could about the visit:
I remember the day well. It was near the end of our stay. The local children had already returned to school. For some reason, my mother felt that it would be appropriate for us to pay an official visit to the school where she and my dad attended. Donald and I got dressed up in our best clothes. You can see in the picture that we were wearing the Eaton jackets that we had gotten the previous Easter. The Copany students were dressed a bit more casually. The only shoe that appears in the picture is one worn by Donald. You can see quite a few bare feet.
When we arrived at the school we entered one of the two classrooms. They must have been expecting us, but I think the teacher was not particularly happy to see us. The students, on the other hand, seemed very pleased to have an interruption in their studies even if it was just to look at a few Yanks. The students from the other room were brought into the classroom where we were, and my mother produced a large bag of sweets. The kids were told to line up and come to the front of the room to get a single wrapped candy. I remember it being a bit chaotic with kids climbing over desks in an effort to get into line.
When everyone had gotten their single piece, there were still quite a few left in the bag. The teacher then announced that anyone who was related to the Cassidys could come up and get a second piece. Since no one was checking DNA, every single student lined up again, and I think that somehow there were enough pieces for everyone to get a second.
We all went outside for the picture. Everyone looks very happy. I think that it reflects their appreciation for a break in routine, and perhaps a bit of a sugar high.
I wonder if any of them remember the day that the celebrities from the Bronx visited Copany School in 1952.