On November 23rd 1867 three Irishmen, William Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O’Brien, were hanged on a hastily built scaffold outside Salford Gaol in Manchester. The execution was a botched affair, carried out by William Calcraft who was…
notoriously unable to calculate the correct length of rope required for each individual hanging; he frequently had to rush below the scaffold to pull on his victim’s legs to hasten death.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
This is what happened to the unfortunate Larkin. O’Brien suffered a lengthy ordeal when the attending priest prevented Calcraft from dispatching him in the same way. He hung twitching on the rope for three quarters of an hour as the priest held a crucifix before him. Allen was luckier and died instantly.
Long ago in an England far far away my sister Angela adopted a duck. Her motivation is lost to history. Perhaps it was nostalgia for our childhood Sunday picnics in Valentines Park, a short bus ride from home. I remember how much we enjoyed feeding the ducks from the bag of bread crusts we brought along. We didn’t yet know how harmful it is to feed wildlife. Perhaps a newly enlightened Angela was seeking atonement. The story of the adopted duck recently resurfaced when she found the documentation in a box of old papers.
One day in the early 1960’s I came home to find that while I was in school my grandmother had been whisked away in an ambulance and taken to a mental hospital. The news followed several unsettling days, days of half heard whispered adult conversations, days when my grandmother kept to her room and my mother placed her meals on a tray outside the door. I learned a phrase I only half understood,paranoid delusions, but somehow I knew it meant my grandmother had gone mad.
It all started one evening when our neighbor came to the door. I was doing homework in the kitchen and overheard the conversation. She explained that she waited until my Continue reading “Tales of the Asylum”→
They left to escape the famine, poverty, an oppressive colonial government, then the violence of rebellion and civil war. They left to find work, to send money home to their families, to find opportunities in the big industrial cities far from their small rural cottages. Some sailed east to England, some west to America, and some south to Australia. Many, like my grandmother, never spoke of Ireland again. So I have had to piece together my Irish family’s history from snatches of conversation overheard in childhood, bits and bobs of story learned from relatives, facts discovered in online archives, and a box of Continue reading “Leaving Ireland”→
The bride wore white. The bride wore red. It was an American wedding. The marriage of my cousin Christopher’s daughter Emily and Kunal, the son of Indian-Americans.
Family members of the bride and groom traveled to the little town of Roslyn on Long Island. We came from near and far, from New York City and Long Island, from Kansas and Virginia, from San Francisco and Washington State, from Maryland and England. We came to celebrate the union of two people, two families, and two cultures. The couple are both the children of immigrants, the bride’s father from England, of Irish heritage, and Continue reading “An American Wedding”→
“Let me get this straight,” said my husband as he dropped me off at our local Metro station. “You’re going to New York to meet a guy you met on the internet?” We laughed. What he said was literally true, but it wasn’t quite as foolish as it sounded. I did meet Brian on the internet but it was on ancestry.com, not Tinder or some such shady meeting place. Though I suppose statistically a long lost second cousin is just as likely to be a serial killer as any random stranger. But Ancestry declared us a DNA match and we have nuns in common on our family trees. Surely a sign of divine favor. So I waved goodbye to Continue reading “The Cousins Lunch”→
One day in 1944 my future existence hung by a tenuous thread. If a message secreted in a batch of laundry had not reached its intended recipient I would never have been born. On such tiny twists of fate and happenstance do our lives depend, though we rarely hear about them. But my mother often told this story in her dramatic continental style, and in my father’s papers I found his solemn account of the affair. Continue reading “The Message in the Laundry”→
The newspaper clipping is yellowed with age but carefully folded and preserved in a box of papers left by my Irish grandmother. The box was inside a larger one with an assortment of family papers that sat in the back of my closet for more than two decades. I would have opened it far sooner if I had known all the little treasures and poignant stories held within: my father’s British Army ID card, congratulations telegrams sent to my parents on their wedding day in 1947, my Flemish grandmother’s passport stamped with all her visits to England when I was small, annual receipts my Irish grandmother kept for the upkeep of the grave of the baby she lost to pneumonia before my father was born. The yellowed newspaper clipping my grandmother kept so carefully all her life was the announcement of her father Hugh Carney’s death in 1913. Continue reading “A Funeral and a Turf War”→
Back in the early 1970s my sister Angela worked for a temp agency in the East London suburbs of Essex. Her first assignment was with a company named Downy Baby Shoes. She imagined an office where grandmotherly women sewed baby bootees while softly humming lullabies. A cosy place, perhaps decorated with Beatrix Potter prints. The reality was far different. On her first day she found a rather grungy office in an out of the way alley presided over by two Canadian men. The boss was a supremely ugly man Continue reading “The Mobsters and the Baby Shoes”→