In the summer of 2011, I first sat down for an imaginary tea party with my grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Once again I'm going to take tea in the company of women, whom I did not have the good fortune to know in life, to pose questions I would love to have asked them. I am inviting ladies from both sides of my family tree, and from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
At today’s fantasy gathering we will dress in our best style, nibble on dainty cakes, delicate finger sandwiches and buttermilk scones, with lemon curd and clotted cream, cranberry and quince jam. We'll sip steaming cups of Assam, Earl Grey and Lapsang tea, while chatting across the centuries.
As part of the fantasy, since all of my grandmothers and great-grandmothers are Irish, the tea party will again take place in Ireland, specifically in the Lord Mayor's Lounge of the Shelbourne Hotel, St. Stephen's Green, Dublin. Founded in 1824, the place is replete with history. In 1922, Michael Collins had a hand in drafting the first Irish Constitution in room 112 of the hotel. Besides, they serve a lovely afternoon tea.
We would have had the tea at the carmanstage (a kind of inn) of my maternal 4th great-grandmother's family in Turvey, North County Dublin, if it still existed. Then again I'm not sure we would fancy traipsing out to the countryside, and Mary Brien Cavanaugh would probably enjoy a trip into the metropolis. We'll keep the numbers small, so as not to elicit too much attention. Without further adieu, I give you afternoon tea with my grannies and great-grannies.
The Guest List:
Paternal grandmother: Anne 'Annie' Magee Geraghty
Paternal great-grandmother: Mary Dunne Magee
Paternal great-grandmother: Margaret Toole Geraghty
Maternal grandmother: Mary Fitzpatrick Ball
Maternal great-grandmother: Mary Hynes Fitzpatrick
Maternal 2nd great-grandmother: Mary Kettle Fitzpatrick
Maternal 4th great-grandmother: Mary Brien Cavanagh
Welcome Ladies! Thank you for coming. I have so many questions to ask.
Paternal grandmother Anne Magee Geraghty (1900-1953):
Grandmother Annie, you joined the Cumann na mBan, the women's branch of the Irish Volunteers, in order to support your brother Michael's work with the Dublin Brigade. Did you ever feel nervous or worry you would be arrested for concealing guns and ammunition, and transporting them around Dublin during the War of Independence? You married somewhat late in life, for an Irish girl, and married a man 11 years your senior. How did you two meet? Did you find it difficult to settle into a life of marriage and children, after your adventures with the Cumann na mBan?
Paternal great-grandmother Margaret Toole Geraghty (1860-1948):
Great-grandmother Margaret, would you tell me how your husband Patrick, a labourer from a family of Mayo tenant farmers, ended up being a wealthy car proprietor living in the best part of Dublin? Was he as single-minded and ruthless as some say? No disrespect intended; I was just wondering.
Also, your father John Toole and your father-in-law Thomas Geraghty were both tenants of Sir William Roger Palmer — a landlord who refused to sign leases with his tenants so he could evict them at any time. Given this fact, did you ever live under the threat of eviction? Is that why you and your husband left Mayo for Dublin?
Uh oh, great-grandmother Margaret looks annoyed. More tea perhaps? Cake, anyone?
Paternal great-grandmother Mary Dunne Magee (1874-1939):
Long before I ever laid eyes on an image of you, I saw your signature on a document you signed to receive the medals awarded to your brother William Dunne after he was killed in Belgium in 1914. William served with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers for many years, so I have often wondered how did you feel when, at the age of 15, your eldest son Michael joined the Irish Volunteers to fight against the British forces? Did you believe in the promise of a new Ireland, as did your husband and your eldest son and daughter?
Shall I refresh the tea? Any one for a fancy cake or cucumber sandwich?
Maternal grandmother Mary Fitzpatrick Ball (1894-1936):
When I was a child I loved the photographs my mother had of you, still do. Grandmother Mary, you died when my mother was only 5 years old. Mam’s memories of you were the recollections of a 5 year old child, moments wrapped up in scents and sounds. When you were a little girl, your father and mother took your family to live in Liverpool, England. What do you recall of that time? Was the journey difficult? I’m very grateful they brought you back to Ireland, since it is in Ireland that you met my grandfather. I have always wondered where and how did you and my grandfather meet?
Maternal great-grandmother Mary Hynes Fitzpatrick (1873-?):
When I look at images of you, I see the face of a woman who dealt with a lot of hardship in life. Although you look into the camera’s lens, my mother recollected that you would allow neither her nor any of your grandchildren to make eye contact with you. Did you want to save them from the sadness in your eyes?
Was it difficult when you moved with your husband, and children Mary and Joseph, to Liverpool? A few years later you returned to Ireland with your husband, daughter and two more sons, but little Joseph had died in Liverpool. Was it a wrench to leave him behind? Were you ever able to return and visit his grave? Being back in Dublin brought you joy with the birth of your daughter Alice in 1903. That joy was overshadowed by pain with the death of Alice only 11 months later. How did you endure?
Maternal great-great grandmother, Mary Kettle Fitzpatrick (1832-1871):
Did you ever feel overshadowed by your brother Andrew J. Kettle, Secretary of the Land League? Did he practice his speeches on you? When you were a young child you and Andrew shared a room, along with your nanny Mary. Did you remain close as you grew into adulthood? In 1839, when you were only 7 years old, what was the night of the 'Big Wind' like? Did it really tear the roof from your home, and as your brother Andrew did, do you recall a sky filled with a million stars?
You died so young, only 39 years old. Your youngest child Teresa was ten months old at the time, but your daughter Alice took care of her. Eventually Alice took care of my mother and her siblings too, after their mother died. Thank you for teaching Alice so well.
Oh dear, now we're all crying in our cups. Shall we move on to one of our more colourful relatives?
Maternal 4th great-grandmother Mary Brien Cavenaugh (1775-?):
When I think about you I imagine you as a wild Irish woman. It seems you had much more freedom than many young women of your day, since you were working as a messenger and a buyer for your family’s extensive carmanstage at Turvey in North County Dublin. Is it true you illegally transported pikes in order to arm the men of north county Dublin for the 1798 Rebellion? Did you find it exhilarating? Did you worry about getting caught?
You are still known, by your female descendants far and wide, for your powers as a healer. Is it true some of the finest physicians in Dublin consulted with you on their most difficult cases? Your grandson Andrew J. Kettle said so in his memoirs.
Before we finish our tea and say farewell, I want to tell you how much I love and admire each one of you and ask, what is the one thing in your life for which you would like to be remembered?
Thank you, dear grannies, for taking the time to enjoy this fantasy tea with me.
Ah me, if only time travel was possible...
If it was possible what questions would you ask your deceased
grandmothers and great-grandmothers?