People who came before
I wrote this some time back and just rediscovered it... those of English descent please don't take offense... as with those of us white Australians alive today in Australia , we did not abuse the Aboriginal people, most English people also did not abuse the Irish catholic people... many half caste Australians have Irish names...so... and many English people descend from the Irish...but this is the history of ours as I understand it...
In the 1840's and 50's they came, carrying precious bundles and the love of already grieving parents they would never see again. They came, their babies screaming with the hunger that lasted till over a third of the Irish people had starved to death. Only then did it become politically viable for the English to consider acting. There is no doubt in the minds of anyone who understands the reality of the Famine years in Ireland that it was not just a problem with potatoes. The “problem” was a racial and political one with a racial and political outcome.
The Irish were called "Tykes" by the English, which meant dogs. There were too many Catholic dogs cluttering up beautiful green Ireland, for the English gentry to have the hunting estates they craved as part of the stolen booty of the long invasion. The
Famine was seen by many English Parliamentarians as publicly unfortunate but privately a good thing that must be mismanaged till as many dogs died as possible. Those who didn’t die were forced to leave their homes and make dangerous and often times fatal sea journeys in the coffin ships, in even worse conditions than the early convicts were transported. Those who remained, weakened, saddened with loss and hunger, betrayed by the Catholic Church, which worked with the English to ensure a so called civilised outcome, formed only a third of the original population of about eight million souls. The potatoes failed because the English invaders pushed the cultivation of one or two main types of potatoes, which were particularly susceptible to the blight. Before the Irish were 'encouraged' to plant only these potatoes, they grew many different types of potatoes, the variety ensuring that no one disease would cause a problem. Because of their high levels of vitamins, the average Irish person in the years before the Famine was seen by the less prejudiced doctors of the day as one of the healthiest of the races.
They came with their music and their songs; their feet blue with
the cold of the long centuries of English fascism. Feet that would dance in a much warmer land, their bellies slowly filling over the decades as they slowly and with much heartache clawed their way under humble roofs with mud floors, their walls holding precious books.
On leaky dangerous boats they came, shivering with a cold that
was mainly due to lack of warm clothing, but also the cold of a
dispossessed people. Boat people all, lest we forget! These were
my mother's people from Tipperary and Armargh, Wicklow, Fermanagh and places thereabouts.
The dark eyed Flanagans, tall and thin with their love of music
and feet that longed to dance. More Spanish looking than anything but claiming an Irish heritage that went back beyond history. They possessed an ages old insight that defied input from a world going crazy. The pale blue eyed McGoldricks, with their sense of fair play, dignity, quietness, stoicism and love of books. From them I got my eyes, my thin lips that are disappearing with age and my high forehead that looks back at me from mum's baby photos and from a photo taken of my grandfather taken in 1889.
Flanagan, McGoldrick, Butler, Tripp, Carrigh, and Hopper, the
eyes of the boat people's children shine out of cracking photos.
Girls in white dresses with glossy hair framing faces so sweet it
takes my breath away. Men with moustaches, standing uncertainly in pressed suits with labourer's wrists sticking out. Their clear eyes looking outwards to me or inwards to the cool mists and romanticised dreams of the land they knew as home from their parent's telling.
Most of them were poor farmers like mum's father Thomas
McGoldrick, his wife Vera Flanagan and her sister and brother
Annie and Pat. I am fond of mum's people. They lived long lives
most of them and when I was a child they played a big part in my life. Warm loving people who often smiled behind their stern adult faces. A twinkle in their eyes all that belied the mantle of seriousness age had deposited on them.
The ones I knew were spiritual Catholics. Not the sort to hang
about in church yards doing business, or comparing hats and
children, nor revelling in others misfortunes. I knew from first
hand experience, that they had not forgotten where they came
from, and what drove them out. The wolf was never far enough from the door for that empty comfort. Uncle Pat had the same attitude to authority that rests comfortably with me. A healthy
disrespect, tinged with a humorous wariness, some may call it
cynicism, but I prefer to think of it as good common sense with a dash of berserker thrown in.
The McGoldricks, Grandfather said, had once had a castle in
Ireland. Who didn't? Castles don't mean all that much to me. My
home has always been my castle anyway, however humble or grand. But then again they may well have had one, who can tell. They had a certain bearing and come to think of it I never saw any of them sweat in the awful summer heat. They never looked flustered or ratty. I prefer to believe that the 'bearing' came from some deep well inside the family psyche. I sweat, get ratty and flustered. I must be more the mongrel mixture.
But even amongst the poor Irish, there was class consciousness.
Mum's mother's people, the Flanagans, were upset that their
daughter was only marrying a McGoldrick. Aunty Annie was said to have lectured her younger sister Vera, mum's mother, and soundly told her she had to remember that she was a descendant of the old kings of Ireland and was marrying beneath, as in Ireland the McGoldricks were considered a newer family. This was in 1919, but at least the McGoldricks were Catholic. When mum, the product of that most catholic of unions, married dad who bore the Protestant name of Spencer, and whose family has a Masonic tradition, both sides must have had to do some hasty changing. In 1949 it was still unacceptable to marry into another religion. Dad converted to Catholicism, as it was Mum who was the Church-goer, not Dad as it didn't matter as much to him.
Mum and Dad looked like each other. Both had large blue eyes,
fair skin and high cheek-bones. Dad had wonderfully wild curly
hair and long glamorous eyelashes, much to his macho
embarrassment. I feel he was more like mum's side than his ownpeople, Who were mainly protestant Irish descent and as proud of this as Mum’s side were if their Irish Catholicism. Loving and demonstrative, approachable and comfortable, with few pretensions he was a good father. For all his gentleness, this short, strong, stocky man had a short temper, which I know I inherited. He believed in equal education for his daughters, unlike many of the fathers of girls I went to school with. Mum and he appeared to suit each other. Orange and Green, Irish at heart and Australian to the core.