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My Irish Roots

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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.

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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.

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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.

Slainte.

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9 thoughts on “My Irish Roots

  1. Laura, what roots you have, what a moment for your grandparents to be born and very hard moments to endure. What experiences, you’re right, I don’t know if small kids could survive that now.
    Gosh I’m so sorry to hear the story of the fire. When I was small, I jumped through a glass door (thought it was open). I cut my leg well open, the doctors thought I wouldn’t walk again (big mistake they made, thank goodness). My parents contacted the previous owners of the house to query why it was so easy for me to jump through the glass. They said they had a son that died in a fire because he couldn’t get out. Since then they made their houses full of easily breakable glass…
    I love seeing the photos, beautiful!
    Oh, and have you been to Ireland? I’ve been a few times, although for work only, I’ve loved it! I love the Irish people too. xx

  2. The drawing of the tree in the wind and the babbit with his blown in the wind.
    If you want to die your hair, do it.
    It may be just the thing to attract the handsom stranger.
    The rabbit could be a good omen the Irish family may increase.

    • I think I’m convinced. I saw an older lady (50’s) with a lovely purple swathe in her hair and I swooned. Looked so wonderful. Loved the rabbit drawing. I’m working on it in ink. Wishing you fun and love!

  3. How’d I miss this?! Too much green beer? What a great story you belong to and those photos are amazing. And to think, Armagh is the next county over from where I was born 🙂
    You come from fine stock, my girl xo

    • Yes, fine stock and tough as nails. Sat around with family shortly after that post and they told me so many stories of Grandma and the old country. Mom has traced our roots back to England, 1685, when our first American ancestor on Dad’s side came over. He sounds like a dick! He sued everyone. Mind you, he was easy to trace because of the court records…it all ended up with a big move to Canada after the Civil War when GG grandpa got part of his hand shot off. And then there’s Auntie Arizona (love that name, eh?) who got run over by her own car in 1927. Boy, our ancestors are just FULL of beans!

  4. This is a bitter sweet story but I think I know where your courage and never say die attitude come from. You fought a good battle Laura! That’s important. Irish? I always thought you might have French genes, I don’t know why, lol… But I should have guessed. Irish are strong and hospital characters. My uncle used to work for Irish embassy in Singapore. He’s retired 🙂

    • Yes, Grandma was a very strong character. All my roots are Irish and Scottish and English and American. We come from old American/Scottish stock on Dad’s side. I would like to go to Ireland some day. I went to Scotland once. It was great!

There is no sin except stupidity.

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