Letter from Ireland

The weather here has been fantastic except for a tornado warning in my area a week ago. It didn’t touch down, but caused a leak in my roof that my cousin Patrick worked on this weekend. The daffodils, fruit trees, star & saucer magnolia’s are in full bloom. Iris and peonies should be blooming within a week or two. The hooligans have been busy chasing all the birds looking for nesting sites, especially those checking out the bluebird boxes and taking over my tractor. 

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I thought I would share a letter my Grandfather received from his home town in Ireland. 

My grandfather came to this country in the late 1800’s from Ireland and first settled in Matawan New Jersey. I did a search of Ellis Island records using his last name to avoid misspelling his first name and couldn’t find his name listed, so he must have come in through another port. After Mom sold the farm, I found old rusted lard can in the well house. When I pried open the can, I came across a letter mailed on January 13, 1901 by friends in Moate Ireland. It has another stamp of January 24, 1901 in Matanan, New Jersey. I’m not sure how he landed up in Tuscumbia, Alabama, working as a guard at TVA during the construction of Wilson Dam in Muscle Shoals. What’s amazing is that back then all you had to do was put the person’s name and city on a letter and they would get their mail.  These days if you have the city along with the street address right and write down the wrong zip code, your mail is returned to you. 

Just think this letter was mailed over 110 years ago and before Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first air flight which took place on December 17, 1903. A large number of Irish immigrants came to this country during the potato famine. Most had very little possessions with them, mostly the clothes on their backs and came looking for a fresh start in a strange country. Immigrants from Europe during this time had not seen a person of color. My Mom after escaping from a Russian concentration camp, came over as a refuge shortly after WWII and the first time she saw a black person was on the troop carrier SS Hanselman on the way over to the USA. I was thrilled I decided to open the old lard can as my Dad was never one to tell us about our family history. All I knew was that his Dad came from Ireland, but didn’t know the city until I found the letter. I never met any of my Grandparents on Dad’s side as they died in the 1940’s. I remember finding a death certificate signed by President Woodrow Wilson in a barrel out in the well house. When I asked Dad about it, he just said it was an uncle. When Mom sold the farm and we were deciding what to keep and what to discard, I found bits and pieces of the document and other family pictures in the barrel. Rats had gotten into it and shredded a lot of the family history.   

My Grandfather on my Mom’s side was forced into the German army and came home a few times and has been MIA in what is now Bosnia since 1945. Mom was 7 years old when she was put in the concentration camp with her Mom. Her two brothers were in separate Russian camps. Somehow they all were reunited after escaping into Austria. Several of her relatives and friends died in the camps.  

We too often take for granted what we have in this country and also the freedoms we enjoy.  Be sure to share what knowledge you have of your family history with your family. 

  • Published on Mar 14, 2011
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