The Glad Green Land IV

by Maura & Richard Fleck


Later School Days and Leaving for America

Both of my mother’s sisters, Bea and Margaret, left for America when they were relatively young. I gradually got the urge to go to America and stay with my aunt in Princeton. I didn’t want to repeat the sorrow of my mother’s hard life on a simple Irish farm. True, I never expected that I would wind up in Wyoming with a husband who liked to camp out under the stars and cook meals on an open fire high above sagebrush valleys in the snowy peaks of the Medicine Bow Range with me, of all people, who was trying to get away from having virtually “camped out” for the first seventeen years of my life in rural Ireland. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

As I’ve said before, after Uncle Pat retired from school teaching, both Peg and I went on to Drumore School, a small one-room schoolhouse with only four or five students in each class. We continued studying Gaelic, Irish history, English, mathematics, and elocution with a Mrs. Cole. During the lunch hour we’d play soccer in a nearby field. It was pleasant to be out of doors and hear the sparrows sing. Upon returning to the classroom, we dipped our pens into the inkwell to take notes or take exams in Gaelic and English. We studied world geography and made maps on the chalkboard. We also had to memorize our national anthem, “A Soldier’s Song,” in Gaelic: “Seo did a cairde duan oglaig” as well as in English: “We’ll sing a song, a soldier’s song.” Every time I hear the national anthem I think of my dad who was a soldier before we were born. He served in the RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary) before the war and was stationed most of the time at Hope Castle in Castleblayney back in the 1930’s for four years. Fortunately he missed World War II. Ireland was neutral and only volunteers served with the British against the Nazis. Speaking of Nazis, I remember dad telling us about a stray Nazi buzz bomb that exploded in the Irish Republic injuring a farmer and destroying a barn. Because of incidents like this, we did have to draw our curtains at night during the war in order to create a blackout so German pilots would not be guided by any ground lights. But all that was when mom was still alive. Now, in addition to going to school, we had to milk the cows, cook, do wash, clean the house, and get water from the well.

When we finished primary school, Peg chose to go to an agricultural boarding school in Navan where she learned to make cheese among other things. I chose Castleblayney Technical School and got there by bike each day. Unfortunately my teacher at the technical school was a bit dictatorial. Miss Duffy was her name. She taught home economics and had a distinct dislike for children raised in the country–“culchies”–she called us. If I failed to respond properly to a question, she would knuckle my shoulders till they were black and blue. I couldn’t even raise my arms from the pain. She also taught us (a class of around fifteen students) English in which we read short stories like those in Joyce’s Dubliners, and we had to write essays on them. She taught us typewriting, shorthand and business writing all in an equally stern manner. Suffice it to say I did not enjoy secondary school at all. The only relief I got from school and housework was going to dances with friends on weekends to hear live bands playing country and western music as well as traditional Irish music. Always last song played before the end of the dance was “A Soldier’s Song” which we all sang in Gaelic.

I eventually left Castleblayney Technical School to take a job at a small grocery store in town where I waited on customers and did the bookkeeping. It was during that time that I had to ride my bike home in the dark and witness the phantom funeral or the wee elf riding his tricycle that I mentioned earlier. Perhaps a combination of scary roads at night with lurking and a few ignorant farm boys who were usually up to no good, an unpleasant school experience and the weariness of constant housework on our farm fostered in me the urge to go to America. This urge grew stronger and stronger, so much so that I even talked to dad about it. At first he was dead against it. But when he saw that my heart and soul was set on America, he gradually yielded. I knew I would hate leaving him; after all what a great dad he was to raise four young children without a wife. He was truly a marvelous dad. But I just had to leave. Perhaps granddad O’Hare saw the sense of it, too. After all, his two beloved daughters, Bea and Margaret, were over there and surely one of them would sponsor me. Dad even remarked that his own sister Alice left for Saskatchewan, Canada years earlier, and his brothers Tom and Hugh settled in New Rochelle, New York. Even his brother John went to Detroit, Michigan and raised his family out there. Though dad would never dream of going to America, he could finally see that one of his little twins just had to go. When Aunt Bea agreed to sponsor me in Princeton, New Jersey, it wasn’t long before I got my passport and papers ready for the long journey.

It broke my heart to say goodbye to my sister, brothers and dad and my granddad. I’ll never forget to this day seeing my frail little father crying his eyes out and waving goodbye. As the car took me to the railway station I could still see him on the distant hill where he waved goodbye. I almost wanted to get out of the car and go back home, but something told me I was doing the right thing. Even though my flight across the Atlantic was a scary one with the prop plane losing one of its engines into the sea and our having to make an emergency landing in Newfoundland, Canada, I still sensed I was doing the right thing. Peg would follow me two and a half years later. After we worked at Princeton University Library for several years, we both married university professors, she to a chemistry professor who left Princeton to go to Iowa State University, and I to an English professor who wound up teaching at the University of Wyoming. What a far cry from Tullyraghan to Laramie, Wyoming where I would eventually complete my Bachelor’s Degree while raising three fun-loving, inquisitive children. Who would have ever dreamed that I would have the pleasure of listening to Shoshone and Arapaho tribal storytellers, much like those in Ireland, at least just as earthy. I would have the unique experience of returning to Ireland with my husband for six months of sabbatical leave when we stayed at Tullyraghan for the most part and he traveled to Dublin’s Trinity College for research. On an earlier summer trip in 1967 he would meet my dad just two years before he died. They had such a good time together talking about different things and identifying flowers along the roadside. My husband greatly enjoyed turning the hay and placing it in stalks (stooks) out in the fields with dad. Yes, dad knew that I had made the right choice. And he knew Peg did, too. Hughie would eventually come to America to work in the construction trade in Brooklyn, New York, but, as I said, he and his wife retired back in Tullyraghan. Tommy, after an unfortunate first marriage, left for England to work laying cables in the Newcastle area where he now lives with his family. Wee Louise also came to America to visit us in Laramie and work in Ames, Iowa where Peg and her husband lived. She returned to Ireland, though, and married in Dublin to live outside of Dundalk with her husband and family. Each one of us has his or her own Irish story to tell. Our experience over there has helped make us who we are. But I shall never leave Ireland entirely. Part of me is still there listening to the birds and hearing the rain patter on our slate roof. I will always remember my mother’s rich laughter and my father’s sense of humor. If we filled the teakettle with too much water, he would ask us if we expected a team of thrashers to come and work nearby. I still see the mist rising off distant Mullyash Mountain and taste the fresh berries growing on the hedgerows. And always deep in my heart are Irish country songs that I find myself singing out loud when no one is around.

 


References:

Peadar Livingstone, The Monaghan Story: A documented history of the County Monaghan from earliest times to 1976. Enniskillen: Clogher Historical Society, 1980

Notes recorded over the years by my husband