Sunday, December 7, 2008

Maggie May

If you look into your children’s eyes you will often see your ancestors. Such is the case with our daughter, Maggie. She resembles her great grandmother when she was eighteen nearly a hundred years ago. It was 1908 and millions of people were coming to America. Margaret (Maggie) Walsh from Tipperary, Ireland was one of those people. When my great grandfather said good-bye to his daughter he told her he knew in his heart that he would never see her again and indeed he never did. It was over sixty years before she returned home again. By that time everyone she had known had passed away except for her sister Hannah.
It is a little ironic that at the same age her great grandmother was when she came to America from Ireland, Maggie visited Ireland. It wasn’ t planned that way. My 85 year old mother always had a desire to visit her parent’s homeland but it just never seemed the right time for her. She lost her twin sister to cancer and days later found out that she too had lymphoma. It seems she had lost her whole generation in just a few short years—my father, her sisters and many close friends. One day she told our family, "If I beat this cancer I’m going to spend your inheritance and take all of you to Ireland." Being the tough little Irish woman she was, six months of treatments sent her into remission. We booked the trip and the whole clan was headed across the pond to invade Ireland and visit our roots.
Maggie even sang in the pubs. She has always had a beautiful voice and several years in a row won the local "Danny Boy" singing contest held on St. Patrick’s Day.
It wasn’t until we began to study old pictures and tried to discover more about the Walsh and O’ Connor side of our family that I began to see more and more of my grandmother in my daughter. She has the same sense of adventure it must have taken for my grandmother to leave Ireland in search of her new life in America. We used to call Grandma O’Connor, "Sweetheart Grandma," and Maggie seems to have that gene too. The reddish hair, fair complexion, quick smile and a twinkle in each ey e. She has that Irish sense of humor that just seems to spill out of her, and the compassion of a saint. If she ever cleaned her room she would be darned near perfect!
She is a grown woman now. It seems like such a short time ago she was in kindergarten sitting at the breakfast table ready to leave for school without a care in the world. It had been the Easter holiday followed by National Heritage week. She would be sharing her heritage with her class at school so we explained to her about her great grandma coming to America from Ireland. Before she started out the door we tested her, "Maggie, where did grandma O’Connor come from?" She paused and thought for a moment and then very confidently said, "She arose from the dead." I said, "We’re a great family, but we aren’t that great!"
One of the stories my grandmother would tell us was about a young man she dated before she left Ireland. John Scanlon was a groundskeeper at Lismore Castle and took her dancing there just before she left for America. Her stories are the only clues we have of where she might have lived. She actually inherited the family farm when she was nearly 100 years old. She was the last surviving of thirteen children. She had a nephew who was a retired Judge in Utica, NY who helped her sell the farm and settle the estate. She used some of the money to make sure everyone of her family in Ireland had a proper headstone. Everyone has small pieces of information about the family but the world was a much larger place at that time. Communications were slow and families who came to America were often fragmented. Centuries of family history has been lost. But what did it really matter. Part of our adventure was to visit County Tipperary where Maggie Walsh was raised and County Cork where my grandfather, Micheal O’Connor was raised and use our imagination as to how these two, who grew up so close to one another, moved halfway around the world to meet and fall in love.
As for our Maggie. I’m not planning on any good-byes. No matter where her life’s adventures take her, travel time has been reduced to hours not weeks.
—Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird

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