Saturday, May 25, 2013

Sepia Saturday: If only they could speak: Inspiration in Sepia

Each time I sit down at my desk to write about my family, or about Irish history, to contemplate the lives led by those who have gone before me, I see two small sepia images of my grandmothers. Years ago I affixed these two portraits to the wall above my desk. Grandmother Annie and Grandmother Mary look out at me from photos taken so very long ago, before either one was married, before they had stepped onto their ultimate path in life. Each time I look at them I feel as though they are bidding me to uncover family stories, to learn as much as I can about the path travelled by every member on my family tree. Both of my grandmothers died long before I was born, and so these small sepia images give me a connection across time to these women, whom I did not have the privilege of knowing in life.

A simple sepia image draws us back into the past, and inspires us in the present to look at that past and learn from it. Whether the photograph is of a small boy, an old man, a stern looking matriarch, or an ethereal looking young woman, each one represents a life that has been, and each image tells us something about that life.

Just imagine if each one of those pictured could call out to us through time and ask:

What it is that you see in my image?
Whose face do you see in mine? Your father or mother, your brother or a cousin?
Do you see your face in mine?
Do you have my eyes, my hair, my nose, my lips, or my ears?

Who do you believe I was in life?
What assumptions have you made about me?
On what parts of my life do you choose to focus?
What aspects of my life do you choose to ignore?

Do you truly know my history?
Do parts of my life story echo in your own story?
Is it difficult to see yourself in me?

Will you remember me?

If only such interactions were possible, with so many questions to be asked, and so many answers to be given. All of them are inspired by these faces of family in sepia. If only they could speak.

Pictured in the image above (left to right):
Top row: Margaret Toole Geraghty, Anne 'Annie' Magee Geraghty, Michael Magee, Patrick Geraghty, Enda Geraghty.
Middle row: Alice Fitzpatrick Ward, Patrick Ball, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Thomas Michael Kettle.
Bottom row: Maria 'Mary' Fitzpatrick Ball, Maria 'Mary' Hynes Fitzpatrick, Andrew Joseph Kettle.

Be sure to stop by Alan and Kat's blog Sepia Saturday to see how others are inspired by images in sepia.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Walking away from family: A disappeared brother, Declan Geraghty

Children begin by loving their parents.
After a time they judge them.
Rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.
                                         —Oscar Wilde

Declan Joseph Geraghty, 1955.
Oscar Wilde understood so well the complexities of the human spirit, and the limitations of it. So too he understood the feelings of contempt that might come over a child when too soon he realizes his parents are only flawed human beings after all.

Perhaps due to his own tragic family history, Oscar Wilde understood estrangement and the mad misunderstandings which might take place within a family, the lies told, the secrets held, and the stories created to cover up those lies, and to bury those secrets.

Declan Geraghty was raised in one such family, with parents who tried their best, but simply could not succeed in the role. The fact that there was never to be any forgiveness of his parents by Declan can be of no doubt.

Sometime after the death of his mother, and the emigration of his two eldest brothers, Patrick and Michael, Declan walked away from his family, seemingly never to be heard from again.

Born 29 February 1940, Declan Joseph was the sixth child of seven born to my paternal grandparents Anne Magee and John Geraghty. Declan was born into a household of strife and violence. Their father was an alcoholic who beat his sons when they transgressed the rules, and who by all accounts was a deeply troubled soul, possibly suffering from mental illness. Their mother had been losing her eyesight since her early twenties and was almost completely blind, but still tried her very best to make a life for her family. Declan's eldest brother Patrick was twelve years his senior when baby Declan came along, over a full decade away from him with respect to time and common interests. There were three other brothers in between them, Michael, Enda and John, and one sister, Mary. Declan's sister Kathleen was a year younger than him, born in 1941, and so for a time they would be close.

Declan's grandmother Mary Dunne Magee, who would have doted on him, died ten months before he was born. Her husband Patrick Magee had already been dead for almost five years, so he would never know his little grandson. The Magees had been a good support system for their daughter and her family, and without their aid matters deteriorated. Declan's paternal grandparents, Margaret Toole and Patrick Geraghty were rarely in the picture, having all but shunned his father John for his perceived weakness and dissolute ways.

Occasionally, Margaret and Patrick Geraghty would venture out from their opulent home in the wealthy Dublin suburb of Mount Merrion to visit the household of their second born son in Crumlin. Although my father simply would not speak of it, Declan's sister, my aunt Kathleen, once described to me the terms of such a visit. Mr. and Mrs. Geraghty, as my aunt called them, would always bring a tin of biscuits, and never stayed for more than a few minutes. She seemed deeply hurt by the fact that her paternal grandparents seemed wholly indifferent to the poverty in which their grandchildren were living.

Michael, Kathleen, & Declan.
My father kept some of the very last photographs in which his brother Declan appears. They were taken in 1955, sometime in the months just after my brother's birth, and less than a year before my father, mother, and brother emigrated from Ireland. In the pictures Declan is small in stature and slight of form, and at the age of fifteen years, already bears the rounded shoulders of a disappointed man. There is a glimmer of lightness in one very small photograph, inserted here on the left, in which Declan is pictured with his sister Kathleen, holding my elder brother Michael. They seem to be beaming over their little nephew. Although they were close, Kathleen said she did not know then that her smiling brother would leave her behind, and walk away from the life they both knew so very well.

Beginning sometime around 1975, Kathleen began to search for Declan. On a visit to Canada, she consulted with my father over what they might do to find Declan. For some inexplicable reason they both believed he was still alive, but there was never any explanation of this offered to me. Declan was spoken of in whispers, and the stories which grew up around his disappearance vacillated from the bizarre to the ridiculous. I found myself to be a child who suspected that the boy who had walked away from the flawed family was possibly flawed himself.

One relative claimed that in 1956 Declan had a religious calling, and had journeyed to Africa as a Christian missionary, bent on converting the native population. Another believed he had gone to Liverpool, or immigrated to America, to make his fortune in business. There was even the possibility that he had joined a band of itinerants, and was living a gypsy life. I wondered how a sixteen year old Irish Catholic boy from Dublin could follow any of these paths, but I said nothing about it. When I would ask my father what happened to Declan, he would say he honestly did not know.

For years Kathleen searched for Declan, placing advertisements in newspapers in Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, asking him or anyone knowing him to contact her. Somehow Kathleen knew Declan had not emigrated away from the British Isles, knew that he would neither venture into mainland Europe, nor journey down into Africa. Somehow she knew he had not crossed the sea to Canada or the United States. Sometime late in 1978, or early in 1979, Kathleen's search was ended when one of those ads was answered.

Declan was living in Leeds, England, some 200 miles north of Hillingdon, Middlesex, the London suburb in which his younger sister was living with her husband and children. Life had been quite difficult for him, and it appears at times he had been 'living rough', as they say in Ireland, 'homeless', as they say in North America. The story was that Declan had lived in many different places, all over Ireland and the UK, and was then working in Leeds as a social worker at a soup kitchen, but I do not know if that story is true. Declan would survive only a few months after his sister found him. He died 2 June 1979, at the age of only 39 years.

After Declan died, there was a flurry of telephone calls between my father and his youngest sister. Arrangements had to be made, a funeral and a burial had to be paid for. Of this time I recall only two things. The first is a conversation my mother had on the telephone with the proprietor of a flower shop in Leeds; my mother was demanding the finest St. Joseph's lilies for Declan's funeral. 'St. Joseph's lilies, not Calla lilies! St. Joseph's lilies, not Calla lilies!', my mother kept emphatically repeating to the florist.

When she hung up the phone I asked my mother about the difference between the two flowers. Mom described St. Joseph's lilies as very desirable because of their simplicity and their beauty, and explained that Declan should have only the very best. In my mind I wondered what possible difference it would make to him now that he was dead, but I kept that sentiment to myself. Eventually I came to know that the St. Joseph lily is a signifier of Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary, and he who is associated with the saying, 'the just man shall bloom like the lily'. Perhaps it was not only the beauty of the flower which made it fitting for Declan.

The other recollection I have of the time after Declan's death is the receipt of a small black and white photograph. It was sent to my father by his sister Kathleen, a couple of months after Declan's death. In it was pictured a beautifully simple white marble gravestone that the siblings had bought to erect over Declan's grave. The words 'tabula rasa' passed through my mind when I saw the image of the stone, 'tabula rasa', a clean slate.

A couple of months ago I applied to the English government to receive a certified copy of the registration of Declan's death. Recently it arrived in the mail. On the certificate the date of death is confirmed as the second of June 1979, and the city of Leeds is stated as Declan's last home. Three conditions are noted for the cause of death: "cardio respiratory failure, Bilateral spontaneous pneumothorax, and emphysema". The cause was certified after a postmortem, which means that Declan probably died alone. Also, on the form, Declan's occupation is recorded as 'Night Watchman'. Night watchman? Yet another incarnation. When I read those words, another pair of words came back to me, 'Tabula Rasa'.

Whatever path he may have followed, whatever Declan's life had actually been, the slate was long ago wiped clean with the setting of the simple white gravestone. After all was said and done, I dearly hope my uncle Declan found peace, and was somehow able at last to understand, and perhaps even forgive his flawed family.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

The passage of one year: When did I last 'see' my mother?

Today is Mother's Day, tomorrow would have been my mom's 82nd birthday, and Tuesday is the first anniversary of Mom's death. For the last few weeks I have been thinking about the last time I actually saw my mom in the fullness of her being, the last time she was unmistakably and fully there. Tracing my way back through time, I began to wonder when was it that I last truly 'saw' my mother?

When a family member doesn't have an apparent illness, and death doesn't appear imminent, we just live our days. We take things forgranted and don't say goodbye after visits, but say 'see you next time'. We don't think about loss, believing there will always be more visits and conversations, more shopping trips and more everyday tasks.

The last time I hugged our mother goodbye as we left her home, I didn't think we would never again see her standing in the front doorway of the house, making us laugh, as she waved and chanted farewell in Italian. 'Arrivederci, arrivederci!', she called out, as she always did to us, an Irish woman using the farewell word of Italy, the country in which she enjoyed one of her most memorable holidays. Sometimes she would make a short hand of it and say, 'rive, rive', but the sentiment was always the same, 'farewell, until we meet again'.

My mom's illness and passing took place over a very short period of time. Mom had been hospitalized a few times over the course of her senior years, but she always recovered and came back better than ever. This time it was different. Mom was admitted to hospital on Thursday, and with all of us around her, on Monday evening she died, the day after she had celebrated both her 81st birthday and Mother's Day.

When did I last truly see my mom?

Was it the last time Mom was wrapped in Dad's arms and the two of them danced together?
Was it the last time I had an argument with her, or the last time we completely agreed on something?
Was it when she turned her face up to the harvest moon, and seemed to be dreaming of another time and place?
Was it when she laughed out loud at the birthday party of a friend, or quietly dabbed tears of pride at a graduation?

When did I last truly see my mom?

Was it on the afternoon of the day before she died? In her hospital bed Mom closed her eyes, and with the buds of my iPod in her ears, she listened to Andre Rieu, her favourite violinist, as he played Les Patineurs, one of her favourite pieces of music. She rocked back and forth in the hospital bed, sweeping an invisible conductor's baton through the air, bringing the orchestra in her imagination to crescendo.

On that Sunday, we thought Mom was on her way back to us, but with each one of those musical trills she was moving closer to heaven.

Arrivederci Mamma! You are very much missed.
Bella Mamma, out and about on a day in Rome.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tuesday's Tip: The Act of Union Black list

This Tuesday's Tip is not a tip as such, but another resource page I am adding to this blog. The content of this page is a little sticky, so to speak, because it is a 'Black List' of those individuals who were called out for changing their vote, and thus voting in favour of the Act of Union** in 1800. With respect to family history, whether or not we agree with the decisions made by the men named on the Black List, we must remember they had family, and they may have descendants.

The source of this list is a book which I purchased at an auction of historical ephemera in Ireland in 2010. Written by Sir Jonah Barrington, and published in 1833, it bears what has to be the longest book title and subtitle I have ever seen. It is entitled,
"The Rise and Fall of The Irish Nation: 
A full account of the Bribery and Corruption by which the Union was carried
The Family Histories of the members who voted
away the Irish Parliament,
With an Extraordinary Black List
 of the Titles, Places, and Pensions which They received for their corrupt votes."

According to Sir Jonah Barrington, those who initially had been against the Act of Union sold their principles — and their souls — for financial and political gain by changing their minds and voting against Ireland and for the Act of Union with Great Britain.

Although Sir Barrington's strong opinions about those who changed their vote might lead us to believe that everyone could be bought off, this was not the case. Some of those who changed their votes did so because they were convinced the Act would lead to reform, both parliamentary and economic, and would include Catholic emancipation. Whether or not they accepted bribes, the names of those who changed their votes and voted for the Act of Union appear on the Black List.

There are 140 names on the Black List. Under the heading 'Observations', Sir Barrington includes some biographical information about some of these individuals, and adds details of any payoff to them. With an acid tongue, Barrington occasionally inserts his opinion of them. Of his observations Barrington remarks, "As the capitulation was disgusting, the discussion must be severe."


Are any of your ancestors on the Act of Union Black List?


What was the Act of Union?

Here follows a very brief and simplified history of The Act of Union 1800/1801:

Tabled in 1800, passed into law in August of that year, and effected on 1 January 1801, the Act of Union joined Ireland to Great Britain as the single kingdom called The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Buoyed by the ideals of the French Revolution, including religious emancipation, many Irish, such as Theobald Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen, saw breaking free from Britain as the way forward to liberty and democracy for all. In order to prevent Ireland from supporting France in war against Britain — remember the French landed in County Mayo to aid the United Irishmen in the 1798 Rising — and to quell the fervour for liberty and fraternity, Britain sought to rein in Ireland with the Act of Union. As I mentioned above, some believed Ireland would benefit from the Act.

Once the Act of Union was passed into law, matters became more clear about what would actually be the case:

1. The Irish Parliament at Dublin was abolished, so no longer could Irish members of Parliament debate the fate of Ireland in Ireland. With the Act, Ireland was now represented at Westminster by one hundred Members of Parliament, 4 Lords Spiritual (bishops of the Anglican Church who served in the House of Lords) and 28 Lords Temporal (secular members of the House of Lords). Every single representative had to be Anglican.

2. King George III's disdain for Catholics was enshrined in the Act. He forbade Catholic Emancipation in Ireland, citing the fact that upon his coronation he had sworn an oath to uphold Anglicanism. Further, he ordered that no Catholics were permitted to hold public office.

3. The Anglican Church was made the official Church of Ireland.

4. There was to be free trade between Ireland and the rest of Britain (although this did not prevent tariffs from being imposed on Irish goods).

5. Ireland had to have a separate Exchequer, that is a national treasury, and from these monies Ireland had to pay for two-seventeenths of the so called 'general expenses' of the entire United Kingdom. This worked out to Ireland paying about 12% of the Kingdom's bills.

Overall, you have to agree it was not such a great 'union' for Ireland. They should have requested a pre-nup.

The dissolution of Éire's union with the United Kingdom began with the declaration of Irish independence, the opening volley of the 1916 Easter Rising. That declaration was ratified in 1919 by the newly created and secret Dáil Eireann, the War of Independence ensued, after which the Irish Free State was established in 1922. Ireland enshrined its independence in the constitution of 1937, and any remaining ties with the union were entirely severed in 1949. Independent Ireland, called Éire, and described as The Republic of Ireland, is no longer subject to the Act of Union, and therefore is not part of the United Kingdom (the State of Northern Ireland remains part of the UK).

Oddly enough, the Irish government did not officially remove the Act of Union from the law books in Ireland until 1983, and although it no longer applies, the Act of Union remains on the law books of the UK.

**Note: Since the union had to be approved in each parliament, there were actually two Acts of Union governing the union of Ireland with Great Britain. One was passed in the British Parliament in July of 1800, and the other was passed in the Irish Parliament in August of 1800. Both came into effect on 1 January 1801.


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