My Grandmother was Irish. She was born in Armagh County in 1914. The year that the Home Rule Act was passed by Britain’s Parliament.
Unfortunately it was also the year that the Archduke Ferdinand and his wife were murdered and WW1 broke out. Home rule never came to pass.
In 1920 the Irish War of Independence broke out and I’m not going to go into that. It was terribly violent and cruel. What mattered to my Grandmother is that she was only 6 years old when 3 men burst into her grandmothers home and shot her two uncles to death in their living room.
Her parents, not knowing what to do or how to protect their children, sent the 3 oldest, who weren’t very old, to Canada. Grandma went to work for an Irish family in Edmonton, Alberta as a kitchen maid. Lena and Walter got jobs in other houses.
Her mother and father stayed behind for another 5 years, trying to save enough money to follow them with the other 5 children.
My Great Grandfather, Martin Keogh born Dublin July 16, 1883.
When my Great Grandfather and Mother arrived in Edmonton things were looking up. GG Martin was a trained engineer and got a job. They rented a big old rambling house and began to set down roots. They had another baby, the first Canadian baby.
Grandma was still working as a maid and lived with the family she worked for. Walter and Lena, being older, did the same. So they weren’t home when GG Martin awoke early in the morning, lit the stove for his wife and went to work. The chimney caught fire. GG saw the smoke from several blocks away and ran back home. It was too late. His young family was trapped on the top floor, all 6 children and his wife. He ran upstairs and, from newspaper accounts, he tossed the baby from the window to waiting people below. The 6 month old baby was already dead. GG Martin never came out. The floors collapsed. I like to think that smoke inhalation killed them all and that they weren’t scared.
Grandma kept the newspaper clippings but she rarely talked about her early life. She once said she tried to talk Mom and Dad out of naming my brother Martin after her father. Said it was a bad luck name. Martin is fine and has 5 kids of his own now. Grandma lived to be 97 and she had a good life. She married twice, had 3 kids of her own and met all of her great grandchildren.
Grandma and Grandpa with 9 of their 13 grandchildren. That’s me on the end by Grandpa Wilf. I was the same age in that picture as she was when she made that trip.
I see little kids now, and it’s almost unimaginable, that they could do what she did. I think of the family she left behind and how it must have felt when she said goodbye to her Mom and Dad, her brothers and sisters, uncles and aunties and cousins. She boarded that big boat and sailed across the ocean and then boarded a train for the long long ride, all the way across Canada, almost to the Pacific Ocean, 3 little kids alone across that vast country.
So when I think of Ireland, I remember Grandma Mary. She was proud to be Irish and she wanted to go back there to visit. She never did but she used to say she didn’t have to. All she had to do was look at her green eyed grand daughters. She reminded us we have family there and not to forget it. So I don’t. On St. Patricks Day I raise a glass to my long lost Irish family over there. She made it. We made it.