My Father

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Aside from the feeling that I have here discharged a personal obligation to the memory of my parents I believe that it is to a considerable degree a representative account typifying the struggles vicissitudes sacrifices and problems of millions of immigrants to America and their individual contributions toward its development and enrichment.  The bias of blood making detachment and objectivity impossible, I offr as authentic many facts definitely established.  Others in the nature of hearsay, folklore, humor, and tradition while dubious, did not lack support in my boyhood days.  Openly sympathetic, I feel that were I to approach them otherwise I would not be capable of understanding or interpreting them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                    My father was a man far above the average intelligence found in the working class in which he ranked lifelong.  The earlier generations of his family seemed to have been at least moderately circumstanced as I understand that one of his grandfathers owned two good sized farms, and the other engaged in the retail business.  One of his uncles was a Catholic priest.  My grandfather and a brother were carpenters.  I recall father relating an interesting story in this latter connection. 

     Grandfather Fleming kept several special boards seasoning for years on the rafters of his workshop.  The day before his death he instructed his brother to take his measurements for a coffin to be made out of the boards mentioned.  Father, although very young recalled watching his uncle making the coffin while grandfather was still alive.  This probably occurred in 1850 or 1851, as Aunt Ellen who was born in 1850 was an infant at the time and father was only a child of 5 or 6 years of age. 

     Grandfather Fleming had participated in the rebellion of 1848 and took part in the assault of the local police barracks which he had earlier helped to construct.  He also fought with Thomas Meagher in Belgium in 1829.  James Fleming was the father of five children, two girls and three boys.  Mary died while still a child, and Ellen died in her twenties.  Uncle Edmond came to America and was killed while working on the railroad in 1870 in his 22nd year. 

     All three of the boys were in the rebellion of 1867 and father and Uncle Ed took part in the raid on Canada in 1870.  Uncle John never came to America but lived for many years in England.  He seemed very well  to do as did his cousins john and Mary Fleming as father and brother John inherited considerable money from them.  

     Grandmother Fleming widowed with five small children was supported by her brother the Reverend Edmond Phelan, a Catholic priest who practically reared the children and gave special education and training to his namesake Edmond Fleming whom but for his untimely end would have probably followed in his uncle’s footsteps.  Grandmother Fleming died around 1890 and seemed to have been at least eighty years old.  Father was born in 1846 and died in 1910.  Uncle John was born in 1844 and died in 1912.

     Father’s home town was Carrick on Suir in County Waterford Ireland where they seemed to have been rooted for centuries, having arrived in Ireland in 1066 with the Norman invasion and are said to be descendants of Flemish archers whose prowess with the crossbow contributed to the success of that invasion.  Of note here is the fact that my grandfather served with his personal friend General Thomas Meagher of Waterford in the Belgian war for independence in 1829. 

     Father  immigrated to the United States in 1867 via France and worked at railroad building across the country until he married my mother in Rondout, New York (Kingston) inn 1873 after which he engaged in bricklaying until locating in Rosendale township in 1876..  For the remainder of his life he worked in the cement mines except for a few years as a cemetery sexton..  After residing in various Rosendale districts , he finally located on James Street in 1883 and our family now number among the few very old residents there..  Father and mother had twelve children, two girls and ten boys and of these eight lived well beyond voting age..  As of this writing (1949) five are still living..

     An extraordinary man and a very unusual type for a common laborer, father possessed breeding, refinement, and surprising intelligence.  A student, bookworm, orator, and a deadly wit; he had no local equal as a debater.  Even the combined efforts of intelligent sons to gang up and get him confused only resulted in amusement for him and frustration for his smart-alecky scions.  Of established honesty, he was empathetic, almost fanatic in his well-grounded and wholly defensible convictions.  He lacked prejudice, save for the things he held in common contempt; for such his contempt seemed tinctured more with pity than scorn.  Religiously inclined and well versed in ecclesiastical lore and concepts, he often openly denounced inconsistencies and unchristian attitudes of many individuals, even those of his own faith whom he thought disregarded their commitments. 

     As a father he was extremely kind and never punished any of his children and even resented mother’s efforts to maintain family discipline.  Politically he was a Republican until later becoming interested in Henry George, he finally embraced such progressive doctrines as did not run counter to his religious beliefs.  Always a staunch laborite, he was a last ditch fighter in The Knights of Labor local problems often at great personal sacrifice and financial hardship despite his intelligent awareness that his loyalties were misled and in some instances betrayed.

     Discussions concerning his people always saddened father and he seemed to reproach himself for not remaining with his mother and sister during their lifetimes.  That his family was highly respected was indicated by the attitude of various County Waterford people who frequently called upon him in this country.  All of these people spoke highly of father’s family, and from them I learned many favorable family facts concerning which father never bragged.  Apparently our family line was a slow dying “old house” and father admitted to me that were it otherwise he would have never married.  His wise selection of my mother introduced a strain that matched his own for character and intelligence.

     Father differed from most of his contemporaries many of whom were gregarious, rough, bearded, brawling, hard drinking and uneducated.  While though mixing in organizations concerned with political, labor, and nationalistic matters, he was temperate, clean shaven, well spoken, and widely read.  Always a profound student, he was familiar with the best literature of the ages.  He loved poetry, read the bible freely, was well versed in Irish, English, and American history, and had a fair knowledge of general history.  His deep interest in ecclesiastical writings evidenced a strong religious tendency.  Catholic, Irish, and an active rebel, he liked England and its people, among whom he spent several years in his younger days.  Catholics and Protestants alike conceded his intellectual honesty and personal integrity.  While his opinions often displeased many, strange to say, he made few lasting enemies, and in these he took especial pride.

     Father never inflicted any of his private “isms” on any bored or disinterested individuals.   His policy seemed to let the other fellow lead off and follow him up step by step either to agreement or otherwise.  One of his best friends was an Episcopal minister, a native of the Isle of Wight and a personal friend of Alfred Tennyson whom he somewhat resembled.  They usually discussed English and Irish history and literature.  Religion was rarely mentioned.  Both of them could quote Bobby Burns in good Scottish dialect.  Other topics ranged from Socrates to  John Brown of Osawatomie.

     Father, from personal choice, liked to keep record of time in the same fashion as did the illiterate “owld stock”  for ages.  He quoted dates only when omitting them would cause confusion.  Examples follow:

·        Vinegar Hill Rebellion 1798

·        Impeachment of Hastings 1788-1795

·        The time of “Bony” 1815

·        Emancipation Year 1829 (Roman Catholic Relief Act)

·        Night of the Big Wind 1839

·        The Famine Year 1846

·        The Rising of ‘48

·        The Crimean War  1854- 1855

·        The Indian Mutiny of 1857

Other dates were indicated in conversation  with those that understood by such allusions as The Fenian Rising (1867),  Disestablishment of the Church 1869, and the Phoenix Park Murders (1882).  American dates were implied by reference as well such as The Tilden Trouble (1878), Grants Term (1869 – 1877), The Potato Bug Year and The Blizzard (1888).  Local periods were mentioned as  The High Water Spring (1878) and The Binnewater Strike (1888).  One reference has an interesting family connotation was the year Mike Foley Jumped the “Ha Ha” (1852).

     Mike Foley was a neighbor’s child who adored my great grandmother who until 1841 kept house for her son, my grandfather.  He married that year to the great dissatisfaction of the Foley child, as the new bride seemed to be displacing him as the center of attraction.  He asked great grandmother to put the new woman out.  She told him that he should speak to the son about it.  This Mike did at once.  My grandfather seriously confided to the boy that he did not want the woman there himself but could do nothing about it as she was a stranger to him and he was afraid of her.  He then asked Michael if he would please order the woman to go away.  Glad of the chance, Mike issued the mandate.  Grandmother Fleming meekly consented to leave as soon as she could get someplace to live.  She fed and cajoled Mikey and asked why he didn’t like her.  There seemed nothing in particular.  He was finally won over and ever afterward was her constant friend.

     The “Ha Ha” was a hidden fox hunting hazard, a horse jump that killed the Marquis of Waterford (Henry Beresford, 3rd Marquis of Waterford) in 1859.  My father saw young Mike Foley clear it in a running leap in 1852.  This same athlete often tottered into our Rosendale home to talk about old times in Ireland with my father.  The sight of this palsied old man always touched my father deeply, and caused him to recall the famous young jumper of bygone days.  Incidentally, Mike Foley and his cousin Jim who also lived in Rosendale, both carried a pike in the rebellion of 1848 in the same local unit in which my grandfather served.   

     In the 1880’s The Knights of Labor and the Hibernians were strong.  Father belonged to both.  They died out due to the decrease of Irish immigration, combined with the lack of interest on the part of American born generations.  Colorful and impressive, the Hibernians were quite typical of the many and diverse fraternities which were then in vogue.  The Knights of Labor being cosmopolitan was then the largest local organization.  It’s back was broken however in The Binnewater Strike of 1888, after which local labor units were weak, covert, and largely underground.

     Having a young family to support, father often helped in the ice harvesting along the Hudson River.  There were no felt boots then and leather boots were generally worn by the workers.  In addition to the few hard earned, sorely needed dollars, father often contracted frozen feet and a cough that lasted deep into the summer.  This in addition to seasonal attacks of malaria, hard work, worry, and family responsibilities, practically wrecked him in his forties. All these bringing on a light paralytic stroke after which he aged rapidly,  yet struggled along in his laborious work until his death in 1910.  Commenting on latter-day advancement, father enshrined the inventor of felt boots among the greatest of human benefactors and welcomed the advance of labor saving machinery, hopefully expecting them to eventually become government property used to ease the burdens, shorten the workdays, provide work for the vigorous, abolish child labor, and facilitate pensions for the ill and aged.

     A man of great feeling, his intelligence intensified his sufferings and recognition of his hopelessness of his lot caused him keenest mental anguish.  Without any evidence of self-pity he regarded his problems as part of the lot of class in his time and generation which bad as it was witnessed advancement and human progress toward the Utopia of his dreams.  A lifelong slave, his only personal hopes were in the hereafter and he often said “Whatever is ahead, let it come.  I don’t want to go back”.   His sympathy for others, love of children and animals, and his pity for misfortune was boundless and extended to every living creature.    

     While engaged as a cemetery sexton, he was painfully impressed with the neglect of children to care for the graves of their honest hard-working parents.  Often out of sheer indignation he without recompense, cleared the weed grown plots of parents who had left substantial sums to their children.  Beautiful tributes to his personality were evidenced in his close attention to the Potters Field and unconsecrated sections of the cemetery, his care of young wind-sown seedling trees, and his avoidance where mother birds were either hatching or rearing their young. 

     At home he often kept as much livestock as would not interfere with his gardening,  He kept a milk goat, ducks, pigs, two dogs (usually terriers, collies, and bulldogs), a flock of excellent tumbling pigeons, and many game fowl.  The only trace of cruelty in his nature was the fact of him using these game cocks for fighting purposes.  He rather lamely and shamefaced tried to justify this practice by saying it was their nature to fight.  This was a point upon which he disliked being twitted.  He was a sportsman, having caught the fever when very young  and although loving the beautiful creatures intensely, could not resist demonstrating their fight to the death qualities.  As before stated, the men of his class were, in the rank and file uneducated, rough, and often devoid of refinements.  The influences of associations and environments certainly played a part in father’s life which while altogether changing his true nature, at least accounted for some of his inconsistencies.   

     Fiery himself, he admired fire in a dog, gamecock, horse, or man.  A boyhood follower of horseracing and fox hunting, the yearn for such removed pastimes never left him.  His living political hero was O’Donovan Rossa “The Irish Dynamite”.  He revered such Irish patriots as The Emmets (Robert and Thomas Addis), Wolfe Tone, The Shears Brothers, Lord Edward Fitzgerald and many others.  Father always pointing out that whenever Catholicism was crushed and submerged, Protestant Irish demonstrated a type of patriotism which Catholic Irishman held in the highest esteem.  He often quoted the protestant poet Thomas Davis in support of the assertion that such “outsiders”  as the Geraldines (FitzGerald), Normans, Flemings, and even the English, often became more Irish than the Irish themselves.

     Speaking of poets, father admired Tennyson, Longfellow, all the Irish poets, and Bobbie Burns, the latter being his favorite.  He sometimes whimsically tried verse himself.  Some of these effusions I may include later.  It was only during the last years of his life that I was of sufficient mental maturity to regard much of his extremist philosophies as other than the rantings of a crank.  As I progress with age myself, I see ah how regretfully that I did not understand him.  Father was a man far ahead of his time in many social ideas, some permanent fixtures while others in the offing, yet he never could have been a success.  The man was too honest, too sincere, too radical, and fanatical to ever compromise with intrigue, rascality and hypocritical diplomacies associated with many types of success.  Thank God for the normalcy, intelligence, and common sense of my mother’s strain which toned and tempered our family heritage. Father had the impetuosity which scorns caution, blinds one to the consequences and makes martyrs.  Strategically inclined enemies could cause him to play into their hands and so destroy himself.

     As I developed in knowledge and experience, I saw the truths in father’s ravings but also realized that we lived in a small narrow neighborhood, where few understood  or sympathized with such ideas.  Critical generalities often hit too close.  Neighborhood loyalties were offended, cliques were enraged, employers embittered, the intolerant hateful, and friends alienated.  Such a situation was untenable and suicidal and my mother was very much upset.  Pointing to these factors I persuaded my father to pipe down for the sake of our family and write a book.  He consented after a long citation of precepts supporting his point of view and attitude.  These ranged from The Sermons on the Mount, Thomas à Kempis, Victor Hugo, Voltaire,  Harriet Beecher, and Dicken’s Wilkes Micawber.  From unidentified sources came phrases such as “Letting the truth be told though the heavens should fall, and the virtue of having the courage of having ones convictions...”.

 

     Father did however start a book, the range of which was confined to the village limits.  This he died without completing,  and the manuscript I have yet to locate.  So far the only writings I have from his notes are a few poems, memoranda from the bible, the writings of Thomas à Kempis, and quotations from many poets, political writers and speakers.  These and a mass of clippings from many sources, tracts, and pamphlets, he called his arsenal of facts.

 

     Father was a mine of information on Irish history and literature, English and American politics, and was full of reminiscences throwing light upon the building of American railroads as far as Omaha.   He participated in two of the so called local wars between rival companies over mining claims and railroad rights of way.  Father loathed the ward healer type of politician in the abstract, yet I recall his being won over to a warm and lasting friendship by a country politician in the locality; a man whom father had denounced, cursed, reviled, and ridiculed, although never previously met.  This shrewd man realized that he had a half dozen votes in the family and that father was an embarrassing and  dangerous piece of political artillery which could be silenced by tact and diplomacy.  Adopting these methods he won pop over, first to the extent of a reluctant admission that although the man was in error, he was nevertheless a lovable personality.  

  

     I have heretofore made no reference to our family garden.  Father raised cabbage, potatoes, onions, corn, beans, and other substantials for the family table.  Our plot being too small for the demands made upon it; he tilled some of the then vacant lots the clearing of which provided us with most of our firewood.  Between this and mother’s economy, otherwise we though poor, were never hungry.  In addition to the animals previously mentioned, we had flowers, rabbits, ducks, canaries, and cats.  The family cats for many years enjoyed immunity from extermination from old Duke my boyhood dog who for fifteen years terrorized all the dogs and cats in the neighborhood.  Always hunting and fighting, he got me into many a jam, and saved me from discipline at the hands of my mother who dared not touch me when Duke was present.  Complaining to father about the dog , she was advised not to get Duke down on her as he understood every word she said and would surely revenge himself.  Duke lived for fifteen years and although old blind and deaf, tried hard to fight till the last. 

 

     Mother, although obviously proud of father’s family, occasionally alluded to his as The Invader.  Once, and once only father flashed back “Ah but don’t forget my dear that the invaders landed”.  Up to that time I had been quite conceited about my illustrious lineage, but before mother was half finished I hung my head in downright shame to think that I inherited the blood of a marauding bunch of ruffian cut-throats who by reason of superior numbers and greater military resources had forced themselves upon a decent people out of the sheer lust for pillage and murder.  Later I conceived the idea of giving the younger children pennies just to ask daddy at mealtime what year his people landed in Ireland.  Mother always bristled at this and father wisely made some meek and evasive answer, or none at all.

 

     On the distaff side of father’s family I have mentioned De la Pour (Powers for short) De Burgo  (or Burke) Fitzgerald and Phelan.  John, James, Thomas, Edmond, Mary, and Ellen seem to have been traditional family Christian names.  Contemporary relatives of my father were his cousins John and Ellen Fleming.  Unmarried, they through inheritance and business activities, amassed a considerable fortune, the bulk of which went to charitable and religious institutions and father and his brother received considerable sums as well.  Father’s brother John outlived him, and left his money to my brother John, except for a thousand dollars given to my sister Mary.

 

     Beyond question my father was an extraordinary and splendid character in whom there were many evidences of excellent breeding, family culture, and fine personal traits that manifested themselves despite an untoward environment, discouraging circumstances, and heart rendering vicissitudes.  Were I ever to attain a degree of success such as would prompt anyone to accuse me of being a great man I would reply “Nonsense!   I am merely the offspring of two great individuals of whom the world never heard”.  I of course enjoy the better advantages of a later generation and more favorable circumstances.  Yet in abilities, virtue, and genuine intrinsic worth, compared to them I am but the poor shadow of a great substance.

 

     I have mentioned father’s love for game fowl.  While as age advanced and his studies broadened his interest waned in many sports.  Yet he always retained a lively interest in game fowl.  In 1907, having a fine crop of young cockerels, he challenged old Billy McMann, local veteran of the sport, to fight a farewell main between themselves, each to condition, heel, and handle their own birds and never again to fight a main.  Billy accepted the challenge.  The fight took place in our henhouse, witnessed by many young devotees of the sport.  A splendid Lemon Pyle of feathers broke the score and won the main for him.  The two old timers shook hands and wept.  All the young fellows seemed deeply impressed.  Billy McMann died the following year, and father about three years after the main.  His death affected father deeply.  Another incident that occurred later upset him terribly.  A boyhood chum of his had traveled from Pittsburg to Kingston expecting to locate father there.  Failing to do so, he wrote to their home town and getting our Rosendale address wrote father.  Father replied and endeavored to arrange a meeting.  He received word that Pat Mullins had died the previous week.  Father was in actual grief.  The Foley men mentioned elsewhere were the old country townies of father.  They and Mary Donovan of Kingston seemed the only home towners of his in Ulster County.  With these he kept in close touch.

 

     But for father’s marriage, the family would now be extinct.  As it is there is to date only one grandson two granddaughters, and three great granddaughters so though the blood may persist the name may change.  Family pride of course, prompts the desire for its perpetuation.  Yet all families lose their original identities eventually.  I regret my incapacity to do something distinguished and enduring that would symbolize the rear guard action of a very old family in orderly retreat from an arena which the fought for a millennium with honor courage and distinction. 

 

     What seemed to me father’s greatest fault was his love of an argument for argument’s sake.  In such cases he would use every device in his debater repertoire to win his point and sidestep what was often the obvious and glaring truth.  When cornered due to something conflicting with an previous commitment, he would squirm out of it by delivering attacks from other directions.  In fact he could and often did justify opposite positions.  Chuck ablock with apt quotations, resorts to ridicule, hit and run methods, and the trick of quickly attacking from another angle before the opposition could answer the previous argument.  I could never admire that method.  In saying this I claim no superiority over my parent.  It was the way of his environment.  Formal debates then, at least locally, were knock down and drag out sort of affairs, and decisions arrived at on a biased basis more often than approach to facts and truth.

 

     Father’s European work activities included learning the baker’s trade and working in the cotton mills of Ireland and England.  He seemed very familiar with the Manchester area in England, having worked there for some time and returning to Ireland to participate in the Fenian Uprising of 1867.  His hometown,  Carrick On Suir was the site of Curragh More, the estate of the Marquis of Waterford who conceded a common ancestry with father’s family from the Powers family one of whom I believe to be my great grandmother.  The name Powers seems originally De La Poer, which is part of the Bersford family name.  Father was quite intimate with young Lord Charles, who later became a distinguished Admiral in the British Navy. 

 

     The mills at Carrick were then owned by the Malcomson Brothers.  This English firm, in the expectation of receiving a cotton concession in the South, backed the Confederacy during the Civil War and were said to help finance the rebel privateer Alabama.  The mills at Carrick were booming during the American Civil War.  The firm went bankrupt after the Alabama was sunk by the USS Kearsarge.  This battle occurred near enough to Waterford to Induce yacht owners there to run over to France to witness the fight.  Sentement seemed divided.

 

     Father, unlike most of the men of his generation, was smooth shaven most of his life though in later years because of eye trouble, he grew a moustache.  He loved to talk to old timers and they loved to talk to “Jimmy”, who either remembered or understood what they were talking about.  This applied in equal force to men of all nationalities represented locally.  Listening in on many of their conversations as a child, I was variously interested, thrilled, or terrorized according to the nature of the account.  Now nearing seventy, I fell privileged to have attended the sessions where men born between 1800 and 1850 gathered, conversed, and related firsthand accounts of historical events, ghost stories and many other items associated with long, long, ago.

 

     Psychologically puzzling is the fact that ordinarily alert wary, and quick perceiving, father seemed in other ways very honest minded and quite gullible.  He would trust almost anybody until they once deceived him saying “I would rather die by treachery than pay it the respect of fear”.  Despite this, once deceived he always figuratively kept the deceiver in front of him, often the their extreme embarrassment.   Yet as mother often said “Give him a soft word and everything is forgiven”.  A split personality perhaps, but in how many ways?    

 

     One version of our family’s historical background was sent to me by my Uncle John when I was a boy.  According to this account, our ancestors fought under Strongbow during the Norman invasion of England and Ireland in 1066.  He mentioned the family motto as being “Let The Deed Show” and the war cry as “Crom Abu” which some claim as “Now And Forever”.  My father had only a smattering of  Gaelic and was not sure about this.  He thought that while these were part of our family heritage, he associated them with the Geraldines or the Fitzgerald clan, whose blood entered our family via the distaff side. 

 

         Fleming means A Native of Flanders, those of that race that came to the British Isles during the invasion of 1066 were so called.  Maureen Fleming of Princeton, NJ author of  Elizabeth, Empress Of Austria, and many other popular writings, mentions one Archambaud as having so distinguished himself in the service of William The Conqueror, that he was rewarded the grant of extensive feudal estates.  His decedents are said to have adopted the name Fleming in honor of their illustrious ancestor  having been a native of Flanders.  Maureen Fleming’s version of the Family Coat of Arms is a large oval shield with a smaller shield in the center, capped by a large crown.  The greyhounds stand on their hind legs at the sides.  The ribboned motto bearing the legend Bhear na Righ gan (Long live the King) streams below the inner shield, and what seems to be a section of armor appears above the crown.  Decorative designs round out a pleasing symbol cleverly engraved by Joseph Wein.

 

Our family, in common with most of Irish, Scottish, and English decent spell the family name Fleming, thereby identifying themselves as descendants of the old invaders.  Those of continental derivation spell it Vleming.  The high hat version is spelled Flemming, which neither alters the pronunciation or adorns an old distinguished name which spelled Fleming is associated with men of prominence today as far back through American history.  Examples of this are: General Philip Fleming, Victor Fleming of movie fame, Samuel Fleming founder of Flemington NJ, Sir Alex Fleming the discoverer of penicillin, Thomas Fleming who crossed the Delaware at Trenton with George Washington,  and Marjorie Fleming.  The Man for whom Fleming County Kentucky is named (Colonel John Fleming), and the forbearer of many Flemings throughout the South, one of whom according to a descendent, escaped from an English penal colony in Georgia where he was under a life sentence for his activities in an Irish rebellion.  My informant of this item was a descendant of the convict mentioned.  Although a southerner and a Protestant minister, he was far from being ashamed of his convict ancestor who he took for granted to have been a Catholic, adding that without doubt if his forbearers had access to the old faith, he would have become a priest instead of a minister.

 

For emphasis or illustration in argument or discussion, father often cited famous quotations from poets or writers of renown.  However when fitting he effectively, sometimes humorously, injected apt truths commonly used by the old time Irish rank and file.  Added to these were many “nail on the head” Yankee farmer philosophies which he admired greatly.  Other sources of his quotations included The Bible, Thomas à Kempis, Edwin Markham, Bobbie Burns, Shakespeare, John Bunyan, Dante, Hugo, Scott, Goldsmith, Swift, Moore, Tennyson, Longfellow, and numerous unidentified writers and thinkers.    Appropriate selections for this biography follow:

 

Every evil kills itself.

To turn a stream, go to its fountainhead.

 

Father had many recollections of the old days, ways, and people.  The first extremely dim memory was of his being attracted by the red uniforms of a long line of men.  This was in 1848, and as supplied by his mother, the facts were: Grandfather had gone out with the other rebels and the Red Coats came trooping up the road.  She took the children and hid in the hedge.  Father, then very young, babbled enough to be overheard and reconnoitering soldiers located them.  Grandmother, alarmed tried to run away with the children, but to no avail.  The officer in charge told her not to be alarmed as the British Army did not fight women and children.  He then tried to question her concerning the location of the rebels.  “Three of them stand before you sir, and the head of the family is your match in men, and all of us are ready to die sir” she replied.  “A splendid spirit and your privilege.  Good afternoon lady” he replied then departed.

 

Less sportsmanlike however, is an exchange of retorts to a great English Prime Minister, who according to one of Father’s stories, visited the local school then instructed by a Scottish teacher.  Sir Robert Peel, in questioning some of the older boys asked: “When was Ireland joined to England?”  An alert Irish lad replied that it never had been.  “You are a stupid fellow.” Growled Peel.  “It is you that is stupid sir” replied the youth.  “Don’t you know that the Channel runs between them?”  Quite so Jackanapes, quite so.” replied Peel.  “I wonder if you can tell me when Ireland was conquered by England?”  “It never was and it never will be!”  shouted the boy.  Other half grown lads took up the shout and Sir Robert walked out in a huff to the mortification of the teacher who ordinarily had his hands full with the big boys.  Commenting on the incident later, father thought Peel not only ignorant of the conceded privilege of the Irish soldiers to curse the Queen and fight for her.  Peel, claimed father, “looked for trouble and found it, or at least underestimated the Irish intelligence, a mistake that but very few British army officers make.

 

Relevant here is the remark that I was well acquainted with two former life guards of Queen Victoria, both of these often hummed or chanted certain vulgarisms anent “The Quane” but would fight with anyone else who would say anything against her.  Both men were Irish and about 6ft 3in tall.  Noble looking but hard drinking ne’er do wells.  Each admitted getting kicked out of the regiment after Victoria had over ruled several previous charges against them.  They claimed Victoria knew most of her men by name and was very kindly.

 

From his working years in England, father got many good impressions of the English common people, and never at any time spoke ill of them.  One story concerning an incident that occurred in Manchester points to a commendable sportsmanship existent there.  The Irish in that city then were few in number.  A dog fight had been arranged between the Irish and English dog fanciers.  During the event, one hot headed Irishman let his dog out and boasted that it could whip any dog in England, and that he personally could whip and man in England.  A very calm voice immediately advised him not to make any bets on his brag as there were at least three Englishmen present that could easily whip him, and speaking for himself, he thought he could too.  The Irish dog did win but neither its owner nor any of the Irish present offered any bets on the fellow himself. 

 

Despite favorable opinions of the English common people, father always opposed its government claiming that only the aristocracy actually benefited from it, and the lot of the poor was almost as bad as it was in Ireland.  He frequently pointed to a national debt that they could never pay, yet luxury existed side by side with poverty and squalor.  Dry rot, time, and human progress he averred would actually destroy The Empire.   Illustrative of his attitude towards the British Government is contained in an account of his introduction to a brickyard where he first worked in America.  “Immense pikes of brick everywhere and more in the process of manufacture” He often mused, adding “and the British Army thousands of miles away from me and these other Irish lads.”  Aside from the humor of this story, there is also a pathos.  He was one of many brave Irish lads who was only recently routed in a quickly suppressed rebellion.  This was due largely to the lack of proper equipment.  Their chief dependence being contraband pikes made surreptitiously in parts thrown into the river from local English owned factories by rebel mechanical workers there (Carrick at least) and picked up by awaiting Fenian members along the banks of the Suir

for distribution to other comrades.  What wonder then, that at least one of them who shortly afterwards (1869) faced with a vast amount of potential fighting material would intelligently discern its possibilities under favorable circumstances.  

 

       The Fenian uprising in 1867 was quickly suppressed due to many factors.  Father’s group never contacted the enemy.  Except for pikes, they had very few weapons.  He always claimed that the rising was premature.  They took to the field in early March and were out in the open unprotected in the heaviest snowstorm the locality experienced in many years.  Poorly clad, unsheltered, lacking arms and other supplies, hungry and cold, they were relieved when the order came to disband.  While in the field, he and others received the sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion from the monks at Mount St. Melleray Monastery.  His French confessor there, aware of father’s rebel status, advised him to keep constantly in the state of grace and be ready to face God.  A similar account of a like occasion was given to me by a brother of my mother (William O’Sullivan 1853 - 1939).  This uncle was a rebel in 1867, but was a Clogheen County Tipperary native.  Mount St. Melleray I believe, is not far from the birthplace of either of my parents.

                             Mount St. Melleray Monastery                                                     Father had an interesting story concerning the early history of Mount St. Melleray and it ran thus:  Founded by the French monks by permission of the owner, they through thoroughly hard work, converted a valueless mountain area into fertile fields and gardens.  A later landlord is said to have insisted on reclaiming  the land.  A lawyer said to have been Daniele O’Connor interceded and got either a deed or a stay in proceeding until “Tomorrow”.  Fact or fiction I know not.  Neither did my father.

                                   

Father often made mention of local fools.  I recall his claiming to have seen two of these “unfortunates” in close conversation, and seeming to understand each other’s gibberish.  Other apparent fools he designated rouges in masquerade who assumed their role to win sympathy and avoid work.  One of these stories concerned three of the latter type.  One of these had attached himself to the Marquis of Waterford’s estate and was enjoying all the immunity of his privileged status.  Along came a town fool who also tried to entrench himself on the property.  The other fool beat him off.  The beaten fool returned to town and later returned with a third fool who soundly thrashed the estate fool.  Seeing the fight the Marquis ordered them separated and asked the strange fool “What are you beating my fool for?”  “Because he bate my fool!”

 

Carrick seems even in those remote days, to have many characters the counterpart of whom is yet to be found in big and small settlements, perhaps everywhere.  Easily recognizable to me is Mile A Minute a dignifies snail paced gentleman who when enraged when being called by his nickname, often outran many a fresh Carrick boy and slapped him into more respectful behavior.  Familiar too is the old time Sanctified Joney, an incessant pesterer of the clergy and also a malicious local newsmonger, who piously renounced the sin of the scandals she peddled.  Charitable as the Irish are towards the dead, when Joney died the neighbors softened their opinion that though she surely went to hell, she was there without sin.

 

Among his other recollections, father claimed to have conversed with a very old lady who told him that she saw her father and her thirteen brothers drop their work in the fields and rush off to the battle of Vinegar Hill in 1798.  I believe the claimed that they all perished in that battle, but as I am recalling the item from statements made fifty years back, I am not sure.  In interesting too is a story father told of an 1866 encounter with a man purportedly to be 104 years old, who bet him a ha’pence that he could beat father in a dash across the rathad (road).  The old man won the bet too, and father gave him a shilling.  Learning that father intended going to America, the old man informed him that he too once started for New York.  He sailed in “Boney’s time” (during the Napoleonic Wars) but the ship was captured by the French, and he did not get back to Ireland until after the war.

Father remembered The Crimean War quite well, and knew personally various of the men who fought in its battles.  I often heard him refer to The Malakoff, The Redan, Sevastopol,  and Balaclava in connection with some of the veterans he knew.  Crimea seems to have taken a rather heavy toll in his locality, as I remember him relating details about “The Kiln Boys” of the region.  These were a tough bunch of fellows, who in the early 1850’s used to gather on cold evenings around a local Lime Kiln to drink fight and carouse.  They stole and roasted local lambs and poultry for their feasts, and were a neighborhood problem and worry until the Crimean trouble broke out in 1854 when most of them enlisted.  None of these to my father’s knowledge ever returned to Carrick.  

 

I have frequently alluded to Carrick as my father’s native village.  As there seem to be quite a few Carricks in Ireland, I should qualify by stating the father was born somewhere in County Waterford, perhaps Portlaw or Carrick, Carrick Beg, or Carrick on Suir, which lacking an atlas I cannot pinpoint.  I remember father mentioning that it was just a nice Sunday walk into the city of Waterford City, a walk which he frequently made.  In regard to Waterford City, I remember him saying something about Strongbow’s Tower being there.  It is my understanding that the Norman invasion of southern Ireland was under the direction of Strongbow.  Under him I believe fought the Flemish crossbow men.  One of these was my ancestor.  Intending to file a few copies of this family history in the Waterford area, I add for identification purposes, that until about 1912 my Uncle John Fleming lived part of the time in County Waterford at Portlaw, and sometimes in Droylsden near Manchester England.  Up until his decease, he had cousins living in and around Carrick.  These were named Conoway.  Of a later generation, I recall something about a certain Dean Henneberry. Two other cousins predeceased my uncle.  These were a John and Ellen Fleming.  Similar identifying data elsewhere in this book will I hope support many claims and statements therein.

During the early years in America, father knew and conversed freely with the veterans of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War.  Among his fellow workers were many Civil War Veterans.  He thus had a good knowledge of many famous battles.  Many Irish participated in the Civil War.  Some as citizens, others as volunteers, and still others as   substitutes for drafted men.  A few local men served in The Confederacy due to their being in the South at the outbreak of the war..  A story of father’s concerns a greenhorn Irishman who for $500 agreed to substitute in the war for a local businessman..  For the fee of it, his army commander convinced him that a bounty was also paid for every rebel soldier killed..  Shortly after reaching the war front, they were called out hurriedly to reinforce another outfit..  “How many rebels are out there?” inquired the Irishman..  “Oh golly Pat, there’s a million of them.””  a jokester said..  “Praise be to God!!  Me fortune is made.””  Averred the greenhorn..

  

Strongbow’s Tower Waterford, Co. Waterford Ireland

     During the early years in America, father knew and conversed freely with the veterans of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War.  Among his fellow workers were many Civil War Veterans.  He thus had a good knowledge of many famous battles.  Many Irish participated in the Civil War.  Some as citizens, others as volunteers, and still others as substitutes for drafted men.  A few local men served in The Confederacy due to their being in the South at the outbreak of the war.  A story of father’s concerns a greenhorn Irishman who for $500 agreed to substitute in the war for a local businessman.  For the fee of it, his army commander convinced him that a bounty was also paid for every rebel soldier killed.  Shortly after reaching the war front, they were called out hurriedly to reinforce another outfit.  “How many rebels are out there?” inquired the Irishman.  “Oh golly Pat, there’s a million of them.”  a jokester said.  “Praise be to God!  Me fortune is made.”  averred the greenhorn. 

     Among our family stories are the following.  My grandmother’s brother The Reverend Edmond Phelan, a Catholic priest had a guest one day who in the course of conversation revealed himself as an out and out atheist.  On discerning this, Father Phelan called to his housekeeper saying “Lock up the silver Katie, and leave nothing of value around.  This man don’t believe in God.”  Another story relates to an ancestor named Phadrig, a man in good circumstance and something of a duelist.  One day while dinning in London, he was surprised to uncover a platter of potatoes, boiled with their jackets on.  Titters from an adjoining table emphasized the inference.  Phadrig said nothing but ate the potatoes in apparent relish.  Recognizing those who tittered as regular hotel guests, he bribed (as they seemed to have) the waiter to put a large platter on their table.  When it was uncovered it revealed one of Phadrig’s cards for each man at the table.  To each card was added:  At dawn, at your pleasure.  The wags left the hotel rapidly.

      Despite characteristics hinting otherwise, my father was not pugnacious or aggressive in any mean sense, but in his own words “never wheeled around form the best of them” and he often showed courage to a foolhardy degree.  Back in 1900 when the Belgian hare craze swept the country and popularized that breed of animal for meat purposes, I started raising them.  A nearby Irish farmer was caring for some prize Belgians for a wealthy owner.  Hoping to see them, my father and I went over.  We had with us father’s Scotch collie Lauth, named after a dog immortalized in a poem by Bobbie Burns (The Twa Dogs), a dog that later died on father’s grave.  As we went up the lane, old Nick shouted nastily and threatened to shoot the dog if it came on his property.  Father shouted back “ Go to your gun you Corkonian bogtrotter, I’ll bring him up and you can shoot us both if you’re fast enough”.  Pld Nick started for his gun, but his son Frank grabbed him and shouted to me to stop father, which I did.  Thus a tragedy was averted.  The two old men made up later, but knowing old Nick’s treachery, I never again tried to see his prized stock. 

     Another facet of father’s character is revealed in the following story.  He had been idle all winter of 1881-1882.  Shortly after work was resumed the following spring, he was seized with malarial fever and ran deeper into debt.  Believing father was going to die, the grocer cut off our provisions.  Ten years afterward father walked into the grocery and threw the money he owed on the counter saying “I didn’t die, or any of my family either but no thanks to you Hank.”  The grocer admitted to me twenty years later that he had been sure father was going to die and he was really surprised and ashamed when the bill was finally paid.       

     Great grandfather is said to have been a builder who retiring, invested in farm lands.  Intelligent whole souled and honest minded, he was victimized and robbed by those in whom he reposed confidence.  One rascally farm overseer is said to have sold off choice beef cattle and reporting them as dying of disease.  On hearing of the loss, the old man would tell the overseer not to worry adding “Let us thank God it is not our overseer or any of our families”.  Great grandmother however was not so gullible and her subsequent investigations resulted in the overseer’s dismissal.

     Two railroading chums of father’s during his first years in America were named Norris and Noonan.  Once applying for work in Illinois the foreman, a Yankee named Nickerson, told them that none of them looked to be much of a man, and that he would only have to beat them up three or four times a day to get enough work out of them.  “Sir” replied Norris, “I am the worst man of the three.  Now if I can lick you, would that prove anything sir?”  Get the hell in there and carry them rails, and no back talk or I’ll knock the daylights out of all three of you” roared the foreman.  Other of Father’s stories relate to a wise fool or “cuteen” who asked my father to hold a roll of bills for him overnight and next day he claimed he was ten dollars short.  A brickyard story tells of an Irishman who on entering a company shack or boardinghouse warned all “Far Downs” or Northern Irish to leave or prepare their souls for eternity.  Also there is a story that relates of a fellow who prayed loud and long at his bunk side every night, with a pile of bricks beside him.  These he would hurl in any direction from whence came a protest, comment, slur, or titter.

     Concerning an old country experience, father told of a visit to an Irish fair while the spirit of old coat dragging and shillala waving faction challenges still smoldered.  The Waterford boys were approached by a friendly chap who inquired where they were from and who was their best man.  When told, he said he was from one of a group from Tipperary “all good men and out for sport.  Come on over and join us”.  They went, and after an informal introduction, the Tipp called one of his gang saying “This is a fine man, but he is getting tired of beating up Kilkenny lads and would like to try his luck on a Waterford lad.  Are any of ye worth your salt?”  This was too much and a general fight started which left all the participants bearing scars of the battle.  This experience was the basis of father’s claim that some men never learn by experiences; however he never made that claim within hearing of my intelligent Tipperary mother.

      Revealing of factory conditions in England in the middle 1860’sis his claim of knowing a Manchester girl who died as the result of a severe beating administered by her foreman.  Evidently conditions were similar in Irish sweat shops where he once saved himself from chastisement by a brutal foreman by grabbing a sword like cutter and threatening to defend himself.  For this he was blacklisted, but getting a bakeshop job, he stayed at it until he left for England.

      Both of my parents told certain moral pointing stories none of which I have ever heard elsewhere.  Behind the phrase It depends on whose ox is gored is the story of an Irish peasant whose ox had been killed by another owned by a local landlord.  Reporting the incident to his landlord, the peasant first reversed the circumstances, and upon being informed that he must pay full damages, he apologized saying that he was so confused in the presence of his Lordship that he told the story wrong. He told it as it really happened.  “Oh, that’s different” said the landlord “your ox was worthless and it’s your fault for not having stronger fences.”  The futility of trying to please everybody is illustrated in two stories.  One relates of a man building a boat.  Nearly everybody that came along had suggestions to make, which the builder tried.  The result was a botch job of the rankest type.  The carpenter hung it from a tree limb and started at a new boat and when bypassers came with suggestions he would point up to the ramshackle boat and say “This is everybody’s boat.  This one is mine!”. 

      Stressing the same moral is a simple folk tale of a criticism of a sensitive peasant going to a fair astride and ass, while his young son walked.  “Look at that big lazy fellow and that poor  boy.  It’s a shame” commented an observer.  The peasant dismounting, put his son on the animal’s back and continued.  “Look at that lazy young rascal and that poor weak tired animal” said a woman.  The enraged peasant yanked the boy to the ground and seizing the ass tried to carry it on his shoulders.  In the struggle the frightened animal ran away and was lost.  The point is that the man tried to please everybody but pleased no one, and lost his ass in the bargain.  Another old story tells of a peasant who when questioned by a great lord, admitted paying an old debt making a living and investing for the future.  The debt he was paying to his aged parents, and his investment was rearing a family.  The origin of the adage that “if you give a dog a bad name you can hang him” is founded in another of father’s old stories.  A sanctimonious farmer caught a neighboring dog eating some of his freshly butchered pork.  Rather than betray the cruel impulses of his heart, he feigned alarm and shouted “Mad dog! Mad dog!” until he aroused the neighborhood.  The animal was hunted and killed.

      In my childhood, my hometown had many old time Irish people.  For instance, my godfather and the midwife present at my birth had both received the pledge from Father Matthew personally during his great temperance crusade in Ireland.  Some of the very old Irish from that period were born as far back as 1800.  Many of the men spent evenings with my father, who though relatively young, was familiar with the matters discussed.  They told many ghost stories in which they seemed to firmly believe.  Father accounted for much of the Irish superstition saying that the country was very old, the people uneducated, and the land particularly drenched in human blood.  He admitted having been afraid of nights when alone in the country, but never in America.

      I remember one gruesome tale told by a man born in 1820 concerning a vicious unbreakable stallion that seemed capable of jumping the highest fence and killing all who attempted to ride him.  The animal’s notoriety attracted the attention of the foremost jockey and trainer in the world.  This foolhardy fellow, after erecting a narrow pen fifty feet around the horse, got astride the stallion which by a very high spring, cleared the top of the pen, landed knee deep in the soft earth, kicked himself loose and ran away with his rider.  The fine young man never returned.  Searching parties never located the horse, but they did find the hobnailed boot heels with their edges chewed off.  All that was left of a daring young rider, the horse evidently “aten” every morsel of the jockey and his equipment.  “Divel of a word of a lie in it Jimmy” said old Mike.  And I’m convinced that he believed it himself.  

     A racing fan himself, father admired the spirited Irish and English horses.  If I remember correctly, he was a friend of a great Irish jockey (John Ryan ?) said to have been a derby rider, perhaps a winner.  Father’s comment on the frequent teaming up of stallions for work purposes in America was “Never the like of it ever be tried in aither Ireland or England”.  Pastured bulls also puzzled him as Irish bulls were terrible he said.  Father’s game cocks and dogs were well bred gamey animals.  When cross bred at all the combination proved to be an improvement.  Before I ever saw an Airedale or Bullterrier, he was crossing terriers and bulldogs to obtain quick, strong, gamey dogs and never got excited when the expected occurred between them.  I recall my eldest brother, who was then working away from home, bringing back a splendid fox terrier.  Father was reading when Jim entered with the fox terrier.  My boyhood dog throttled the interloper at once.  Mother fled with an infant child and I felt none too brave myself.  Father removed his spectacles and asked my brother to separate the dogs.  This done, father asked quietly “Where did you get him Jimmy?”  Given the details, his comment was “He is a game little divil, but too light for owld Duke , though he is younger.  He will learn though.  But we are going to have a divil of a time getting them used to each other”. 

     As a character, my father had many of the better traits of Bobby Burns and somewhat paralleled Wilkes Micawber as he seemed always denouncing smart practice and unethical procedures.   I remember him quoting from Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical on labor in one of his arguments adding “Compare that sir to the conceit of well fed and over privileged individuals who believe that some are born to rule and others to be ruled, and consider themselves one of the Lord’s chosen”.  Temperate and hardworking, he was a popular neighbor among mixed nationalities, and seemed something of an advisor or confessor to many workman. 

     Once, due to a work incident, an illiterate backwoods Yankee called to discuss it with my father.  An old man was seen kneeling and praying alongside of his work.  The backwoodsman called father’s attention to it.  Father came, looked, and then tiptoed away beckoning the Yankee to do the same.  “Wasn’t that nice Jimmie?  What was he doing?”  asked the backwoodsman.  Told that the old man was praying to God, the big fellow wistfully remarked that he wished that he knew something about God as he had lots of worries that nobody else cared a damn about and he never learned to pray.  Father sent him to the Episcopal Minister mentioned elsewhere in the book.

     Another American visitor to our house was my boyhood ideal of a hero.  A fine, dignified looking elderly man of military bearing.  He usually wore a military broad rim hat and a blue serge suit.  A natural orator, his knowledge of the Civil War was tremendous.  Father and I never tired of his firsthand accounts of many famous and bloody battles.  He loaned us a history of the Civil War which after reading it, Father claimed Old Pete to be the author.  On pursuing it myself, I found many discrepancies.  Victory credits were wrong.  Absentee and alcoholically incapacitated officers, honored and high awards given to mediocrities of influence.  Lincoln’s frequent commendation of his chief advisor and right man went unnoticed whereas the man who fought bled and died in a hundred battles, and with only nominal aid, saved the Union and plodded his way daily through the streets of our obscure village to and from the hardship and toil which he earned just enough to keep body and soul together.  A man with whom I later worked and to whom I owe my incurable inferiority complex merely because I trapped him into claiming to have been “immorally wounded at both Gettysburg and the fall of Vicksburg both of which battles occurred on the same date and hundreds of miles apart.  If one one-hundredth part of what Old Pete asserted concerning me has any basis whatsoever in fact, I am surely lost.

       Father had many friends among the German folk, and the later coming Slavs, Polish and Italians.  Only a few Jews lived in the neighborhood.  These were mostly businessmen.  Despised by many, traded with by nearly everyone, they were hated by their competitors of other nationalities.  Father claimed that Jews simply had to be shrewd to avoid extermination.  He often said “The Galilean was a Jew.  He loved, forgave and prayed even for those who crucified him, and who are we to gainsay him”.  As a dog, pigeon, and game fancier, father was admired by the old timers and beginners alike in each of these sports.  He could have his pick of their best stock gratis.  One pigeon breeder, a winner of hundreds of exhibit prizes, once remarked to me that father being the last of the old time fanciers “could have anything I’ve got, anytime, for the taking”.

     Politically opposed to free trade, having suffered considerable unemployment under Cleveland, and the long tailed family domination of the local Democratic ticket, made father a Republican for a long time.  Later however, he leaned toward such socialistic doctrines as did not offend his loyalties or commitments.  Locally he voted independently, and in country affairs, for the man most likely to fill the office properly.  He always disliked to see two good men oppose each other, and after some hesitation, would vote against the fellow who seemed in the worst company saying “He is a good man but among rascals”.  An interesting side light on my father’s philosophy is here given: Back in 1894, he bought a plot in the parish cemetery.  In it, at his suggestion, were buried two bodies belonging to neighboring families.  When reminded that this would overcrowd our family plot, he replied “Oh God will make room somewhere for everyone”.

     Religiously he attended Sunday Mass regularly, went to confession every Christmas and Easter, his devotions otherwise consisted of religious reading, chiefly his prayer book and his all beloved Imitation of Christ.  As a father he was Kindly, tolerant, lenient, and quick to forgive.  He disliked seeing mother punish us.  He loved to fondle and amuse small children.  I remember one night he showed me how to thumb twiddle, and promised to later show me another way of doing it.  Eager to learn, I pestered him until he did it in reverse.  He had a lot of child amusing tricks, songs, and stories, and among the few jingles I dimly recall were the “Four and Twenty Blackbirds” and the trick accompanied  “Go to bed, go to bed Tom”.  Believing over education to be at the root of much discontent, he approved of it only to the extent of an individual’s capacity to absorb and utilize it.  Once when brother Tom weeping bitterly, protested against being educated, father said to mother “That child has the sense of  Wiseman.  Maybe we are raising a “janious”.  Personally I feel sure Tom would have made his mark had he not been claimed as a war casualty in 1918.

     By heredity, father claimed, Flemish, Norman, Danish, Irish, and the Geraldine’s Italian blood.  My mother, a Tipperary O’Sullivan, claimed that a great grandmother of hers bore the English name of Spottswood.  The third American born generation have variously infusions of Dutch, German, and American blood.  Of these, as of 1949, there is only one male.  There seems to be a celibate streak in our family, as father was the only one in his generation who married.  Of his children only two sons married.  In his grandchildren however, the tendency seems to marry young.  Virtually the last of his line, father chose mother to perpetuate his family and buttress attributes they already possessed; an infusion that matched his own blood, producing excellent offspring. 

     Often when facing situations which would have trapped my hot-headed father, my mother’s influence has saved me by recalling some of her repeated warnings: “Put yourself in no one ones power” or “When you have you hand in a dogs mouth, draw it out as aisy as you can”.  For me, their like, similar, and unlike characteristics were fortuitous.  They shared and endured a poverty of material things and may in the eyes of the world be adjudged failures, yet in the worthwhile and praiseworthy things of the soul and character, they were rich and successful.  Colossal memorials have been built commemorating fools, tyrants, butchers, murderers and mediocrities, while billions of just and honorable world builders sleep forgotten.  Reasoning these, I share views variously and beautifully expressed by Bobbie Burns, Thomas Grey, Edwin Markham and others. 

     Born in an historic period, father witnessed the transition of things from the old order to the new.  His father never saw a railroad, though father aided in the building of many.  He saw the development and expansion of steam power, photography, the telegraph, telephone, electric power, phonographs, radio, airplane, automobiles, harvesting machines, gas driven engines, the X-ray, improved production methods, and a thousand other things which made for world betterment.  Claiming that he had been born a hundred years too soon, and he prophesized that the time would come when most of the world’s work would be done by machinery, and all mankind would have ample food, clothing, comfort, and leisure. 

     Although a staunch laborite, he did not view labor saving devices with alarm, claiming that although they displaced labor, they saved lives and would force government responsibility for the unemployed, and measures regulating fair labor distribution.  He pointed that hammer and jumper hand mining had sent many miners to an early grave, and gave easier jobs to those who replaced them.  He claimed that the harvesting machines earlier destroyed by angry English peasants, were the forerunners of those that made possible the development of our western wheat empire.  Once seeing an automobile with glaring headlights pass our house one night he commented “Byes oh byes.  If that blasted thing had appeared anywhere in Ireland fifty years ago, there’d be a scared Irish family at the top of every tree on the island”.

     Well versed in history, his reminiscences, and those with whom he loved to converse , were replete with incidents associated with important events of long ago.  His own father as a young man, fought for Belgian independence in 1829 with Thomas Frances Magher, and later participated in the Irish rising of 1848.  It is also claimed that a younger brother of my grandfather served in Meagher’s Irish Brigade during the American Civil War.  Father had conversed with the men who had served throughout the Crimean War.  He likewise talked with veterans who fought in India during the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857.  Several of these claimed to have seen Old Nana Sahib, The Butcher of Cawnpore.  

      In a period where newspapers were few and far between, father foregathered of evenings with many others in a store in his Irish hometown to hear the latest newspaper read.  The best of these papers was The London Times, which had special correspondents on the American battlefronts.  Interest was general, and opinions were divided , the majority seemed to favor the North and sympathized with the Negros in bondage.  Few Irish people ever saw a Colored man until they came to America, as was the case with my father who telling it later, said that the first shave that he had in America was given him by a negro who recognized father as a greenhorn Irishman.  He told him that he had served many years as a ship’s barber, and had often walked the streets of Queenstown, Cork, and Dublin.  

     During the public readings of the Civil War News, father met two interesting local characters.  One of these known as Mickey Mixup, was as his nickname implied, prone to getting things wrong.  In relaying the news, Mickey would proclaim that the United States was knocking the hell out of the Northerners, and Lee’s men were chasing the rebels from pillar to post.  Another regular attendant of these readings was an elderly poorly clad yet dignified looking old farmhand from a nearby gentleman’s estate.  Having heard this man being referred to as a Poor Scholar father made it a point to get acquainted with him.  He found that the man, though wholly illiterate, could repeat accurately every item he heard read from the newspaper.  His English was accurate and grammatical in imitation of the schoolmaster who made public the news dispatches, supplemented by his observably close attention of the Sunday sermons of the parish priest.  Irish however was the man’s mother tongue, and according to father in it he was eloquent.  This was manifested by his acting as an interpreter for many interested older folks whose knowledge of English was limited.  The Poor Scholar seemed effortlessly able to translate rapidly from English into Gaelic and hold the interest and attention of the Irish speaking elements to the outspoken admiration of the gentlemanly English born local pedagogue.

      Father described the Poor Scholar as a tall handsome looking well-built man with a very high forehead and Iron grey hair.  He wore well patched plain and scrupulously clean clothing.  His eyes were a soft Irish blue.  Despite his shabbiness, illiteracy and poverty, his dignity seemed regal and his personality magnetic.  Asked why he never learned to read or write he replied “No one was ever kind enough to offer me help, and I’m too proud to beg”.  “You are a true Poor Scholar sir” said my father.  “Not nowadays son” the man replied.  “Maybe ages ago before there was any reading and writing at all I might have fitted in but not now, not now.  Long before the Poor Scholars learned to read and write, men took just what God alone gave them and passed it on to others.  Some of it lives to this day and much of it is forgotten and for the good of our souls must be learned again.  I am the last of my kind, my earthly wants are few, and I am near the end of my days.  I only hope to meet God with a clean heart and soul.  Good evening sir, I am very weary”.  Father claimed that this wonderful old man impressed him more than did all the other intellectuals he ever met. 

      The Poor Scholars of Ireland in the Black Centuries seem the spiritual descendants of the ancient bards.  The scholars went from house to house and taught Irish children for centuries receiving little more than their bed and board in worldly recompense, yet in the intangibles their gains were priceless.  They helped keep alive the Gaelic tongue, learned the rudiments of education and taught them to others who passed them on to others who preserved the national spirit, and inch by inch after many centuries, regained for Ireland a rightful place among the nations of the world.

      Among other unusual individuals with whom my father conversed were several veterans of the  Popes Brigade, formed in Ireland to fight in Italy against Garibaldi.  Another was a very old man, probably the last of the old time faction fighters.  “T’was at  fair in Killarney and owld divvil walked around all day dragging his coat with one hand and holding a blackthorn shillala in the other squeaking out “Anyone within twenty years av me age sirs”.  Faith the owld divvil must have been close to ninety stated my father adding “Although no one stepped on his coat, though one young rascal did sneak up from behind and drop a heavy stone on it and then ran like the divvil”.

     Interesting too that father visited the Lakes of Killarney, The Vale of Avoca, the cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and other famed Irish localities.  He was told that a walking stick laid on the ground at evening in The Vail of Avoca, would be covered with grass in the morning.  He never claimed to have kissed the Blarney Stone.  His attitude was that no Irish born person needed to acquire fluency. 

     He once told me of seeing an Irish regiment who wore three sleeves on their coat in in commemoration of having turned the tide of a long ago continental battle by rushing to the battlefield half-dressed and making a magnificent charge.  A former blacksmith and fellow townsman of O’Donovan Rosa, informed me that the regiment mentioned were known as the Faugh A Ballagh which I think means either Clear the Road or Keep Out Of Our Way (More accurately, “Clear The Way”- Tipp)  My father also told of another battle in which Irish soldiers turned the tide.  An Austrian Prince Eugene is said to have been in command of enemy forces.  His forces seemed to have captured the commanding officers of the opposing army.  Prince Eugene is said to have had this officer brought to headquarters for a talk during which Prince Eugen pointed out the futility of further resistance against him as the battle was already won except for a last ditch effort by a wild Irish regiment who were merely committing suicide.  He pleaded for the immediate recall of these brave foolish men for whom there was no hope.  The captured officer suspecting the Prince, refused to issue the order.  Prince Eugene angrily turned away and shouted “To Horse!  To Horse!”  and in a half hours’ time his army was in full retreat.  A similar story told by my father, related to Napoleon’s Old Guard.  These brave Frenchman shown the futility of resistance are said to have answered a request to surrender in the immortal words “The Old Guard Dies!”

      I recall two stories told me concerning Daniel O’Connell.  The first is a humorous circumstance which made by a rebel song he was singing while answering a rap on his door.  Humming,  We tread the land that bore us, Our green flag flowing o’er us  As he opened the door, a friendly member of the English Parliament appeared outside and he smilingly continued with And the foe we hate before us. 

                                                                                                    Thomas Moore - Irish Melodies, Volume 6

 Oh, where's the slave so lowly,
Condemn'd to chains unholy,
Who, could he burst
His bonds at first,
Would pine beneath them slowly?
What soul, whose wrongs degrade it,
Would wait till time decay'd it,
When thus its wing
At once may spring
To the throne of Him who made it?
Chorus:
Farewell, Erin, - farewell, all,
Who live to weep our fall!
2. Less dear the laurel growing,
Alive, untouch'd and blowing,
Than that whose braid
Is pluckd to shade
The brows with victory glowing.
We tread the land that bore us,
Her green flag glitters o'er us,
The friends we've tried
Are by our side,
And the foe we hate before us.
Chorus:
Farewell, Erin, - farewell, all,
Who live to weep our fall!

The other story related to O’Connell pausing and searching in his pocket in front of a then well-known beggar woman who opened up on O’Connell thus:  “ Oh sir, may the blessings of God follow you morning noon and night, all the days of your life.  O’Connell put a toothpick in his mouth and slowly walked away.  The disappointed beggar lady shouted after him “And may it never overtake you”.  Highly pleased, O’Connell returned and gave her a Sovereign saying “Now my good woman, I want you to curse me please”.  The beggar looked at the Sovereign and then at O’Connell and replied “Oh kind sir I can’t curse you, but the curse of God on you!”  Vague in my memory is another story associated with O’Connell, who whether because of a wager or some other purpose, caused a single Lucifer match or flame to indirectly light every fire in Erin.  This was accomplished perhaps by the original flame being passed by hand from house to house or by less direct means spurred on by a prevalent belief that the end of the world was imminent and that all who kept a fire kindled from the flame of a widely circulated candle, would be spared. 

     Clearer in my memory is a description of a chronic “God help me” or pessimist who seemed always crestfallen and depressed.  Something of a poet, this fellow incessantly murmured his woes to himself bystanders regardless.  Oh, oh, oh, the shadow is on me.  Woe, woe, woe.  Oh, oh, oh, I was born for misfortune.  Woe, woe, woe”.  Brief was the story of a peasant woman who had one hen.  When the hen laid an egg, the woman would rush off to town and sell it for a penny.  When reminded that she had to pay a ha’pence each way at the toll gate she replied “Oh anything so as to be in the trading line”.  Another mentions a slowpoke townsman,  Stoop shouldered and slow of gait, he was known as “Here’s me head and me behind is coming”.

     Father claimed that a bat had no classification other than its name in the animal kingdom, as it is neither bird nor beast.  How this came to be is related in one of his stories:  Once upon a time the birds and the beasts had a terrible war between them.  During it, the bat perched along the sidelines cheering the respective gains on both sides.  “Hurrah, hurrah for our side,  I’m a bird” he would shout when the birds had the advantage.  Then “Hurrah, hurrah, for our side.  I’m a beast” he would scream when the beasts seemed to have the upper hand.  A wise old elephant with a good memory called for a truce.  Discussion followed during which many on both sides recalled that the bat had ardently promoted the war among both classifications.  Peace followed, and both sides repudiated all relationship with the bat species who according to their verdict was “neither bird nor beast”.

     Apparently mountebanks were as clever and suckers were as gullible in olden times as they are today.  Illustrative of this is father’s account of a faker who cleaned up at a Kilkenny fair exhibiting a horse with his head where his tail should be and vice versa.  Some of those duped felt too ashamed to expose the fraud, and others humorously recommended the spectacle to their friends, who in turn praised it to others.  Thus did an old horse harnessed to a wagon backwards become a profitable attraction.

     Tom Pepper is said to have been a notorious liar, trouble maker, and general nuisance.  Tom was chased out of hell for being a common disturber.  According to the story, the devil ordered Tom brought to headquarters.  “Pepper” said the devil, “everybody knows what kind of a place we keep here and the types we cater to.  I admit we ain’t much, yet in a way we have standards beyond which I refuse to sink.  You have been here only a month, yet in that time you have made more trouble than my toughest guests.  Get out!”  “But” replied Tom, “What will I do?  They won’t have me in Purgatory or Heaven.  So where can I go?”  I don’t care where you go or what happens to you as long as you keep the hell away from Hell” said the devil adding, “But hold on a minute.  Blast it, you’re no good to me yet you can be of service to me.  There is too much peace in the world today, and it’s on the increase.  That’s bad for my business.  I need sinners so I’ll make ye me agent and send you back to earth to drum up trade for me.  I know better than to trust you but I also know that you are of no good whatsoever.  So whatever you do on earth is bound to help me.  So back you go tonight , and under no circumstances must you ever come here again.  Get out!”

     The Irish in my home town comprised of individuals from various parts of Ireland.  We had many Corkonians, a few Far Downs, several Waterford families, an occasional Tipp, and a scattering from Mayo, Donegal, Kilkenny, and other counties.  The brogue of each section differed, otherwise they seemed typical Gaels.  Save for a pardonable clannishness towards their home towns, they were ordinarily friendly to all.  Yet when quarrels broke out, the first insult they offered would be a reflection on the other fellows home county.  Many Country Borns of the first American born generation seemed similarly prejudiced.  Some of the latter were much older than my father, a few of their forbearers having come to America as early as 1800, and after 1824 others came to our locality in the hundreds.

       For well over a century American born Irish have been intermarrying with American, German, Italian, Polish, and other nationalities.  Due to the heavy waves of immigration from Germany contemporary with similar waves from Ireland a century ago, the preponderance of the earlier intermarriages were amongst the Irish and Germans.  Intermarriage and close association influenced alike the successive rising generations to a point that prompted my father to say of them “Dutch, Irish, or Yankee, they are all alike”.  This in contrast to all the characteristics of the pure bred elements which differed greatly as is illustrated by another of father’s assertions.  “A drunken German likes to laugh and sing, Yankees want to fall asleep, and Irishmen want to pick a fight”.  In this connection he claimed that neither the Irish nor the Indians knew how to handle liquor. 

     In common with many other nationalities, some of the Irish drank not wisely but well.  A few I recall , kept bone dry for long periods and then went off on a bender which lasted as long as their money held out.  A portent of a forthcoming spree on the part of one man was his donning of a heavy overcoat regardless of the season.  In this he slept wherever he fell.  Such a spree often brought on the “fancies”, and the ailing addict would be with the fairies for some time.  On one such occasion, the frightened wife of a man thus afflicted called a neighbor who was an authority on such matters.  This veteran of many such bouts with John Barleycorn consoled and instructed the wife, and then left for the village where he spread the rumor of the victim’s death.  As this happened on a Sunday morning, dozens of Irish villagers called at the house of the purportedly deceased man.  Among these were some very old women.  Adept keeners, they marched into the house wailing and lamenting loudly.  The invalid jumped out of bed and demanded to know what the hell was going on.  The stream of mourners fled panic stricken, some of the older ones outstripping all others into the village.  When later accused of rumor mongering, the responsible individual claimed that he meant that the other fellow was “dead drunk”.

     The custom of waking the deceased neighbors prevailed among the Irish for many years.  Originally marked by the unseemly faults of earlier times, these gradually modified until nowadays they give little cause for criticism.  I recall many of the old fashioned wakes and have observed some of the old time keeners lamenting the deceased in Gaelic.  I adjudged these to be both picturesque and impressive.  I likewise admired the charity that forbade peaking ill of the dead even when little else could be said concerning the departed soul.  I remember the wake of one such individual who was generally and justifiably disliked.  Little beyond “God have mercy on him” and a few formal prayers were sad in his memory until an old timer entered and standing beside the bier said solemnly Oh God rest the poor unfortunate fellow.  You wouldn’t find a man within a day’s walk that had a finer set of teeth in his mouth than poor Ned had”.  Solely on this tribute rests the fame of a bad citizen.  In it too, is a tribute to the charity and warmth of heart of the illiterate old Irishman who said all the good that he could say in truth concerning a worthless individual.  The tribute payer himself was an interesting type.  Easy going and carefree, he claimed that just before coming to America in 1840, he gave a beggar woman tuppence to do all his future worrying for him.  This man was the best local singer of his time and in 1850, journeyed to New York City to hear the famous Jenny Lind sing.  He was one of the several locals who had received the temperance pledge from Father Theobald Matthew personally. 

     Many Irishmen of his generation and older came to our house to converse with father because “Jimmie” knew and understood what they were talking about.  All the stories they told were quaint and interesting.  Much older than my father, their headstones here indicate that many of them belong to the 1770 to 1820 born generations.  In contrast to father’s smooth shaven face and fair education, they all wore beards and but very few could read and write.  They all believed in banshees, leprechauns, clurichauns, pookas, fairies, fetches and all the superstitions of the old land.  I was very, very young when they were very old, and I cannot reconstruct the tales they told that terrified me as a child.  Such old stories are included in this book.  I recall chiefly from my father’s telling and retelling them in my adolescence and younger manhood, but few more remain to complete the list. 

     One of these was told in complimentary explanation of a certain individual’s notorious ability to outdrink every other bum in town and keep his feet.  According to father, two poachers were enabled to bag a fine mess of trout daily, from a small brook by throwing them small pieces of bread previously soaked in poteen.  Intoxicated, the trout would flip around weakly and were easily caught in the shallow water.  One day they saw a big fellow join the trout scrambling for the bread.  Concentrating upon him, the poachers used up all the poteen they had and procured more.  This too, the big fish consumed without effect and home went the poachers emptyhanded.  Hearing them discuss the incident that evening in a tavern, an old man laughed saying “Hah! Hah! Hah!  Ye fellows will never catch that divil that way.  He is a mullet and have no brains.  He is too empty headed to get drunk”.

       Another story tells of a stingy father who to encourage a growing son, offered to divide a small flock of sheep with him at marketing time in lieu of wages.  Among the flock was an animal that the boy had raised from a lamb, and loved devotedly.  When ready to market the sheep, the father put the best stock in one pen, and placed the pet lamb among the scrubs.  Calling his son, the father offered him the choice of pens.  Seeing his pet lamb among the scrubs, the son went to the pet animal, petted him and tearfully said “Tommy, I have loved you since you were a baby, and I always will remember you.  But you are in very bad company and I am through with you!”  Walking over to the other pen he said “I’ll take these pa”.  This I believe is an old American story frequently used politically to offset the strengths of politically popular candidates.  Two other stories tell of miserly men.  One of these relates to a man who used to put a lantern in his parlor stove when expecting guests.  The reflection of the lantern light against the isinglass giving the impression of a good fire.  Meaner yet was a man who gave his children pennies to go to bed supper-less, and then stole the coins back when they were asleep.

     The last story I have in my memoranda shows that father’s respect for sportsmanship was shared by the best fighting dog he ever owned.  This was my boyhood dog Duke who fought willingly and eagerly until he was eighteen years old.  Blind, toothless, old, and feeble even then he tried to fight.  He was only whipped in one battle during his prime.  This beating was administrated by Jennie, our goat.  Ordinarily Duke had tolerated her with reservations, but seeing her butt my father to the ground, Duke sailed to his rescue.  Jennie knocked Duke cold.  “Be Jabbers, she licked the both of us” said my father as he revived Duke, who after coming to staggered to within a few feet from the end of Jennie’s tether and wagging his tail yelped friendly fashion.  “There’s a thoroughbred for you” said my father.  “He knows he’s met his match”.

     I have mentioned Duke in various parts of this book.  A few items of interest remain concerning him.  Two thirds Irish Terrier and one third Bulldog, he was boss in local dogdom.  Hi killed stray cats, hunted snakes, woodchucks, possums, rabbits, raccoons, rats, mice, and other animals.  He liked to join the hounds in a foxhunt but due to the habit of stopping to bark, he was generally left in the rear.  He was an enthusiastic swimmer and was a familiar figure among the boys at the local swimming hole.  He was no wagon chaser as were many dogs of that period everywhere.  He rarely attacked anyone unless provoked.  He seemed to know what a gun was, and would attack even one of our own family if we pointed one at him.  He was never known to molest a kitten or one of the poultry and puppies terrified him.  He was frequently stolen for use in village dog fights, and whenever Duke acted friendly towards some of the town sportsmen, father would accuse them of borrowing Duke unbeknownst.

     Father had quaint ways of expressing things, as for instance using fornist and beyant.           Weather-wise, he classified March as Manyweathers and always claimed that one extreme was followed by another.  On February 2nd he would say “Half the corn and half the hay and the stock will live till the 1st of May”.  At Epiphany he would say something that sounded to me like Kish Lawn Kilig* which I believed referred to a belief that the day’s length had increased by a cock’s step.  He called the Fall of the year Autumn, saying he never knew the word to be used in that sense in Ireland.    

*Note  The above expression would more accurately translate as “Bhí méadú na laethanta fad ar chéim le coileach ar”.  And at this point it is difficult to relate the original expression.  My mother also used a smattering of Gaelic phrases all of which I am only able to repeat phonetically. Tipp

     As I proceed, other stories of the old land come to mind.  One of these tells of a murdered British trooper who haunted the locality where he met his end.  Another is a tale of a heavy drinking fellow, who taking a shortcut through a graveyard one night, fell into a newly made grave.  Hearing his shouts, his cronies investigated and observing his predicament, decided to frighten him.  One of them wrapped himself in a sheet and went over to the grave and asked angrily “What are you doing in my grave at this time of night?”  Replying, the drunk flung back “What are you doing outside your grave at this time of night?”

     As most of our family were great readers, in our home we had quite a large and varied library.  The accumulation of over a century, the basis of this library consists chiefly of books pertaining to Catholicism, Irish history and political affairs.  Among them are histories by Darcy McGee, John Mitchel, Abby MacEaghon, Daniel O’Connell, and others.  Lives, biographies, memoirs, and autobiographies of many eminent Irishman.  Also the works of Irish poets, scholars, and journalists.  Swift’s works, British classics, The Letters of Junins (1782 edition) and other items ranging from 80 to 200 years old.  These are not for sale at any price as it is my desire to donate them to whatever archive is most likely to respect and preserve them as a memorial to two representative Irish immigrants.  Two great individuals whose annals beyond the data in this book, the world will never know. 

     My father bore his life disappointments without embitterment.  Conceding himself to be a failure in a material way, he found consolation in his moral and spiritual gains.  He often expressed especial pride in raising a large family to maturity, set a good example and fulfilled his obligations otherwise to God, society, his native country, and the land of his adoption.  He said little concerning the adverse circumstances, that in the estimate of his fifth son, accounted largely for his failure in terms of dollars and cents.  In outline these include: 

Losing his father when he was very young. 

Being a child laborer at the age of eight. 

A very meager education obtained from his very intelligent mother, augmented by occasional visits by a Poor Scholar or itinerant Irish teacher.

And slack work attendance at the local unit of the national school.                                              

These supplemented by his lifelong omnivorous reading were the chief educational resources of a debator who often vanquished pedagogic and other professional forum opponents. 

     Father and Uncle Edmund were rebels in the 1867 rising, and came to America via France the same year.  They planned to start a small bookstore in the Boston area.  While working and saving with this objective in mind, the Irish plan to seize Canada via the United States was under consideration.  Joining the movement, they participated in the raid on Canada, and engaged in the only battle of that unsuccessful attempt which was frustrated by the United States Army blocking the border and shutting off reinforcements to the Irish invaders in Canada.  I think the raid occurred in 1870 and that General Meade of Gettysburg fame directed the blockade which broke up the invasion.  Separated from his brother, father got a job on the railroad project at Rosendale.  By writing home, Uncle Ed got father’s address and joined him here panning to return Massachusetts.  Father’s foreman refused to pay him until his month was up, and suggested that Uncle Ed join the gang while waiting for father.  This agreed upon, Uncle Ed went to work the next morning, and was killed in an accident a few hours afterward.  Father never wanted to talk about this but eyewitnesses to the tragedy told me that father was almost insane with grief.  Uncle Ed was buried in the Catholic churchyard and father resumed his railroading.  However, wishing to keep in touch with his brother’s grave, father wanted to locate here.  This he did after his marriage.  Susceptible to Malia, his health and ability to work decreased to a point that reduced our family to extreme poverty.  Loaded down with debt he, in his own words, was “paying on dead horses for twenty five years” at the end of which, he was a broken down old man.

     A small legacy from the old country cleared him of debt, and enabled him to purchase the house we rented.  One by one, we children became self-supporting and the load lightened.  But the wrecked prematurely old man persisted in working whenever it was obtainable for men his age.  “I’d rather be dead that idle” he often stated, and work he did up to within a week of his death of pneumonia contracted by his digging a grave during a December sleet storm.  Conscious almost to the end, he had little to say.  One remark to me was “Oh God knows I’m not afraid to die”.  Another was an inquiry as how far off it was to Christmas. I told him it was two weeks away.  To this he replied “I’d like to stay till then, but two weeks is too long, too long”.  He died the next day while talking rationally with a shocked American neighbor who could not believe what he saw.  A thinking, rough and ready fellow, this man said to my mother “Well if that’s all there is to death, I’m ready for it now”.   Little dreaming that his own death would be one of lingering agony far worse than the last struggles of my poor mother, with whom I was during her last travail.

     Father pioneered in the building of various important railroads, and typified the “Wild Irishman” who with the Dutch, and the freed slaves, aided in the expansion and development of American enterprises.  He, among other “Wild Irishmen” strayed far afield in the transcontinental railroad building days, contacting Indians, Mexicans, and Chinese in the western divisions.  As was the case in the South, many of them settled down and reared families that have lost contact with their traditional faith, yet still retain their Celtic names and physiognomy.  Yet whenever a small group of these settled, however remote from the facilities of the Church, their faith was kept alive until gradually through years of sacrifice, a Catholic Church adorned their remote settlement.  “Wild Irishmen” “The Wild Geese” and “The Railroad Builders” they are vicariously called.  Properly though, they with many missionaries merit the name “Church Builders”. 

     Father had a story about one of these “Wild Irishmen”.  It tells of a missionary priest being taken captive by the Indians.  Rushed into the Indian village, he was taken to the chieftains tent.  Imagine his surprise to hear the gaudily robed chief address him in a rich Irish brogue saying “Av ye please faather, won’t ye reverence be seated”.  The explanation was that this “Mick” had deserted the railroad camp and married the daughter of a chief who died later.  As the chief had no sons, the tribe willingly conceded the leadership to the redheaded good natured Irishman.  Another of these “Wild Irish” transcontinental railroaders is said to have eloped with the daughter of a stern old time minister who disowned the couple until his wife borrowed the first grandchild and kept it for a week, during which the gentleman weakened and sent for his daughter and son in law.  

     Among the earliest settlers in my home locality was a family of third generation Americans of which all were baptized after maturity by one of the first missionary priests that visited here sometime between 1825 and 1835.  A humorous story prevailed concerning the youngest of this group.  A big rawboned back-wood youth who not enjoying the dash of cold water he received, shouted to the priest “Hey there, take it easy! Or do you want to start something”.  Still earlier apparently, were the forbearers of an old man with whom father conversed in 1870.  Over eighty himself, this man described his grandfather as a fine old Irishman who came to the locality when about twenty years old.  “He often carried a string of beads which he often went over”.  This grandfather worked among the farmers as a stone mason and slater.  Often assisted by negro slaves and half-breed Indians, he built stone walls, houses, barns, and so forth, receiving in return his board and a few shillings.  He later married an American girl.  In telling this story, the grandson claimed that there was still a Catholic streak in the family, as his own granddaughter who although only knew a few Catholics, had a very strong curiosity concerning them and their religion.  She frequently pestered him about the great great grandfather.  The young miss wore an idol on her neck just like you Catholics, wherever she got it, and she says she is going to marry a Catholic fellow someday.

     A later coming founder of  local family came to Rosendale in 1820.  This man was a cooper by trade, and also worked among the farmers here making pork barrels, butter firkins, buckets, and so forth, from start to finish.  Felling the trees, splitting the logs, dressing the staves and heading, and shaving the hoops.  A few years later, the discovery of cement here created a demand for barrels by the thousands, and this man was the first cooper boss on the earliest cement works here.

     Father loved Yankee philosophy and humor.  I recall an American farmer telling him two tales anent feminine stubbornness.  One of these was of a wealthy automobile owner meeting a horse drawn load of hay on a country road.  He told the farmer driver to follow him as he backed up to a wide spot.  His aristocratic wife objected and the man and wife started to argue.  The farmer injecting said “Never mind it mister, I’ll back out.  I got one just like her at home”.  The other story related of a man and wife while on a picnic, found that their boat had been stolen.  “Oh John” said the wife, “someone cut the rope with a scissors”.   “Nah maw” sneered John “It’s too heavy.  He had to use a knife”.  “Knife” “Scissors” “Knife” “Scissors” was the gist of the argument that ensued.  Finally the enraged man grabbed his wife and ducked her in the water.  She came up sputtering “Scissors!” After every successive dunking until he held her under a long time.  Finally, the woman feebly wiggled two fingers scissor fashion and died.  Father’s comment on this story was “Of course it’s only a story Ben, but it’s bound to happen someday”.

     During father’s tenure as a cemetery sexton, he met a met a neighborhood doctor who was noted for his jocularity.  Not seeing the doctor for some time, father inquired concerning his health.  “Now Jimmie, I don’t like a man in your business to ask me such a question.  Don’t be in such a hurry to get me” said the doctor.  “Ah, but your very much mistaken doctor”  replied my father.  “If you died, my business would go all to pieces.  Take care of yourself”.  Similar was his comment to an old fellow who during a funeral, used a measuring pole and told father that the grave was too shallow.  “It’s deeper than you’re going to get I’ll see to that you meddling old rascal” retorted father.

     One day a very talkative neighbor woman was talking to my mother thus “I put in my winter’s coal.  I butchered my pork.  I got a cord of wood. I’m going to buy two barrels of flour. I, I, I,” and so forth.  Father looked up from the book he was trying to read and said “I never heard of Mike dying Maryann.  How long have you been a widow?”  Amusing are several railroading building incidents he related.  “How many of ye are in that car?”  asked the foreman.  Told that there were twenty, he shouted “Let half of ye drop off here, and the remaining three thirds ride on up to the sand pit”.  Commenting on the quality of the coal he used, a fireman complained that “three thirds of it was very poor and the other half was no good at all”.  An overcharged  blast that showered nearby workers with splintered stone, caused the alarmed foreman to inquire if any of the wheelbarrows had been broken.  Again, when an engine collided with a handcar carrying six men, a frightened foreman bemoaned “Oh the car is smashed!  The car is smashed! Oh what will I do?”  “I hope you go to hell you Roscommon rum pot” yelled one of the crew.  “What about us poor devils turning handsprings in the ditch for a dollar a day?”

     A veteran of several local wars fought between the railroad and right of way landholders, father told of an instance when the railroad forces were routed by artillery fire.  The cannon used by the opposition consisted of a series of holes drilled at various angles in the face of a nearby rock ledge.  Primed with powder and charged with crushed stone, these guns deadly as a blunderbuss won the day for the opposition.  Father claimed that one had to be tough in order to survive in early railroading days, because if you raked and scraped the back kitchen of hell you would not find a tougher crowd than one third of the elements one met in the early railroad camps.

     My parents’ practically inexhaustible fund of stories has delayed the conclusion of this book as noteworthy items come to mind as I write.  Of the moment I recall one story of a botch mason being hired to erect a chimney.  Proceeding with the job until it began to sag badly, he propped it up and hurriedly finished the job and then reporting its completion demanded his wages.  Refused until it was inspected he threatened “If you don’t pay me right away I will put such a curse on it that it will be on the ground before morning”.  And sure enough it was.                                                                                                   A few familiar sayings of my father follow:

Youth is a blunder, manhood a struggle, old age a regret.

When a boy is young he thinks his father is perfect, at twenty he regards his old man a fool, at fifty he marvels at his father’s wisdom.

A man is a fool till he’s forty.

     Another previously overlooked story told by my father deals with a hometown ne’er do well.  A poaching addict, this fellow while so engaged, encountered the owner of the estate taking a morning walk deep in the woods.  “Good morning, good morning your lordship”  greeted the poacher, adding “you’re up very early sir”.  “Yes Terence, I am trying to get an appetite for my breakfast.  And what are you doing?”  “Oh me?  I’m just walking around looking for a breakfast for me appetite”.  Aside from the native brogue, both my parents sounded alphabetic letters similar to the English pronunciation which differed from my own local custom.  Regarding this as droll, I once purposely pup smart fashion, pounced upon a comment of my father on an item in a labor paper.  “I see there’s a liar (lawyer) here in the paper be the name of Fleming” he said.  “Why that’s nothing”  I remarked.  “We have a dozen of them right here in this house”.  “Yes” replied father “but his fellow is very clever and makes a living at it”. 

     A picturesque and inspiring custom prevailed among local Catholics in the old days.  This was the practice of families reciting the Rosary every evening during the Lentil season.  Very often neighbors dropped in.  If early we heard “God save all here” salutation, to which our parents replied “And to you friend”.  If late, these friends would enter quietly kneel and join in the response as my father led the recital.  All through the 1880’s even to the middle 1890’s the Hibernians were strong here and paraded in full regalia on St Patrick’s Day and all other local turnouts.  I recall the organization engaging O’Donovan Rosa as a speaker, buttressing a drive to raise money to support national Irish objectives.  My father was on the committee that contacted Mr. Rosa to our village.

     It is practically impossible for anyone born here in this century (1900’s) to understand and evaluate these quaint old timers who lacked nearly all of the physical, social, economic, and cultural advantages that we now take for granted.  And I among the last of them, feel that most of the nineteenth century born generations belong to an age old order from which civilization emerged very slowly until the beginning of the twentieth century.  Just think for instance, that any of these long dead old timers, who worked from sunrise to sunset for a dollar a day and even less, got word of an eight hour day at a dollar an hour, with unemployment pay, social security, and old age pensions thrown in.  What would they say?  I feel my father would characteristically comment “Just think, all that and me only up here in heaven.  

     I am afraid that my father’s intelligence made his lot considerably harder to bear than otherwise, in that it only increased his capacity for suffering and realizing the tragic lot that doomed him and the bulk of his contemporaries t lives of drudgery.  Many trapped like himself, weighted down with large families, poor circumstances bound and harmless, meekly submitted “Man With The Hoe” fashion.  These my father pitied more than he pitied himself and often reminded them of the spiritual recompenses forthcoming as promised in The Beatitudes.  Personally, he never flew in the face of God in even his wildest rantings.  He blamed most of the causes on human unhappiness to manmade conditions, the balance to inevitable and impartial laws.  His mental suffering seemed greater than the physical hardships of frozen feet, the drudgery of exhausting labor from ten to fourteen hours a day, in scorching heat, subzero weather, rain hale, and snow, as per season.  Poor, undernourished, half sick, half well, malaria in the summer, chilblains and frozen fingers and feet in winter, a large family to feed, no wonder Pop was a fanatic and found no peace save his prayers and religious readings. 

     Frozen feet were common among the laborers of seventy years ago.  Father haled the later coming felt boots as a public benefaction.  Earlier, the average worker wore leather boots, usually hobnailed, these were veritable refrigerators in winter despite woolen sox and rags with which the workers bound their feet.  Rubber boots worn for ice harvesting were no better.  Mother claimed that father lost as much as he gained in the ice cutting periods on the Hudson where he slept in cold shacks, worked in zero weather, earned a few dollars, froze his hands and feet, and contracted a cough that lasted till midsummer.  The hardships of brickyard work, while severe, were less terrible although the hours were much longer.  Father actually boasted with a, to me, a pathetic sort of pride, that he had “shoveled pit” and loaded barges from daybreak till nightfall the whole summer of 1872.  For this, his employers paid “Jimmie” the top wages of sixty dollars a month and board.  This predated the Panic of 1873 during and after which, wages were lower for years. 

     In June of that panic year father and mother married.  Father, who paid frequent visits to the grave of his brother Edmund who was killed while they were railroading here a few years earlier, decided to make Rosendale his home.  Then began his career as a miner, in which three of his sons later tried and abandoned for better occupations.  As to the hardships of mining, I can authoritatively attest.  Direct fatalities were only occasional however; the indirect toll of human life and incapacity was shocking.  Few of the old time hammer men lived to the age of forty.  The introduction of pneumatic drills eased the physical effort and displaced many to their good fortune, yet miners consumption insidiously and gradually took its tool.  Disqualifications came early, men were deemed old at forty and but few past fifty held their jobs without influence exercised on their behalf.  My exhausted father was incapacitated by a stroke in his middle forties, and after convalescence worked at outdoor jobs, the last of which was  cemetery sexton.

     From the age of ten to twenty, I followed in my father’s footsteps as a miner, often in competition with men twice my strength.   To the good fortune of many around my own age, mining almost ceased locally.  Fortunately I say, because had it been otherwise, Many of us would still find ourselves in the ancestral rut that made many dear ones greater than ourselves to obscure, half-forgotten graves.  Far from being the sole submerged trapped and circumstance bound intellectual in our locality, my father had many friends, who although poverty stricken and of lowly station, evidenced innate culture and intelligence to a surprising degree.  Regardless of this, I doubt if their basic education extended beyond more than three or four years of schooling. Outstanding among these was a neighborhood Corkonian woman of extraordinary brilliance.  Extremely poor and married to a quiet hard working laborer ten years older than herself, and burdened with a large family, this woman read avidly despite the loss of one eye.  A graceful dancer of Irish jigs and reels, she was an outstanding local singer and gifted poet.  Totally blind in her later years, she still sang excellent patriotic songs of her own composition.  I have a few of these lyrics which I someday hope to publish.

     Thus runs the saga of our immigrant forbearers through whose sacrifice hardships, and devotion to their faith and families, we enjoy many of our present blessings.  The spiritual gains are abundantly evident.  Cathedrals rear on sites that not too long ago were lost in wildernesses.  Materially we enjoy the benefits made possible by industry, sacrifice, and integrity of the conglomerate colors, creeds, and nationalities that have contributed towards making America the greatest country in the world.  In this book that began as a private family history, I outlined an ancestry indicating from a race of individuals illustrious in history.  Most family historians do this with a pardonable degree of pride.  Personally however, I am much prouder of the fact that I am the son of two poverty stricken immigrants who lived labored, and died, God fearing and honest in common with many similar parents of old, heretofore unsung.                                

 

Conclusion

 

My father died relatively poor in terms of dollars and cents, but in at least one opinion, he left a wealth of interesting material concerning bygone individuals and noteworthy incidents of times gone yonder.  As his son and biographer, in his memory I bequeath these to any and all who deem them of interest.