First chapter of a genealogy story.
|Fog drifted cooly over the corpses of potato plants. Their dry curled leaves rustled in the slight Irish breeze. In the middle of this death was a stone house with thatched roof. A thin wisp of smoke drifted out of the short chimney. A few hens pecked around the grounds for grubs. The quiet countryside then came to life.
Three boys burst out of the only door in front of the small house. They ran around to the side of the house yelling; “Dadai, Dadai, are there any good ones?”
Their father Bryan answered slowly, “Nah, they all be spoilt with the blight.” He disgustedly threw the potato in his hand into a putrid pile of rotting tubers.
“Oh, Mathair will be upset.” Said the oldest of the three boys. “She was to make a stew.”
“Don’t be tellin me about Mathair. I know how she be feelin.” Bryan mumbled thinking of how lovely his wife Catheryn was when they married.
The potato famine had put such a strain on Catheryn in addition to having ten children to care for. Her once golden wavy hair had become matted against her head. Her bright clear skin had turned sallow with dark circles under her eyes. She hardly looked like the pretty lass she was twelve years ago on her wedding day.
The land was a brilliant green on that wedding day and the Catholic church seemed so grand. Now the land withered and plot after plot of crops died away. Fewer people went to the now dingy church as all their praying did not bring health to the farmers' crops. There were stories of elderly or isolated farmers dying of starvation. Though Bryan did not know anyone personally, the stories were frightening along with the reality that they could not grow a healthy crop for three years.
Now the McGreivy family was sure to starve. They had run out of potatoes in the dirt cellar and the crop was entirely spoiled. Some of their neighbors’ families split up and sent the men to America to get work in hopes that they would send money back to their Irish homes. While other families made the great migration together.
This was rare though because passage to America was expensive. The only way a whole family could afford the trip was by giving up all their land, selling anything of value, and pleading with the landlord to help pay their passage. The landlord had tried to evict the McGreivy family, but Bryan was quick tongued and stated that it would be “un-Christian” to turn them out into the countryside with no home. This seemed an impossible situation but Bryon wrote an impassioned letter to their landlord and prayed for the best.
Bryon was sure that an opportunity to go to America would have to be better than their current living situation. Their family lived in a two room stone house with a clay floor and thatched roof. The peat fire in one corner of the home near the only door was plenty to keep the large family warm in the winter. The house was so small, that body heat and the rambunctious nature of the children would heat most of the space during the day.
It was at night when the fire would die down, and the damp cold would seep under any gap in the tattered quilts and felted blankets they slept under. The children would scoot closer under their covers to warm each other, all except for Thomas and his older brother Bernard. They were the oldest after all and were tough enough to endure a little cold. Cathryn and the girls slept in the one bedroom, while Byron and the boys slept on mattresses in the common room. When they awoke in the morning they stacked the mattresses to make a big lounge to sit on.
The morning of Thomas’ 14th birthday, his mother Catheryn and father Bryan had happy news. The landlord agreed to help them migrate to America! Thomas thought that was the best present he could ever get! The children were excited about the trip and the new land they would go see. However, Lebete, who was four years old, cried about leaving the chickens behind. But Catheryn and Bryon assured the family that things would be better in America and thought that nothing could be worse than starving on their own farm.
What the family did not know was that the ship they were to travel on was primarily used to ship lumber and food across the Atlantic and they would be riding in empty space at the bottom of the ship under all the cargo. There were no windows or beds, only a crowded space with a few chamber pots and water barrels. When the ship was fully loaded there were about 100 Irish migrants that filled the base of the boat from bow to stern. The atmosphere on the ship was joyful as everyone looked forward to their new adventure. A small group started to chant and sing Irish ditties. Unfortunately the excitement was short lived when the ship began to roll out to sea.
In just a few hours some of the migrants became seasick. Some were just moaning or trying to sleep and others violently ill. Poor Lisbet threw up on herself quite unexpectedly and began to cry. Not everyone made it to the chamber pots when they were sick and the reek in the boat built up over the first week to a constant stench. It smelled worse than the pile of rotting potatoes that were next to the house they left.
Thomas and Bernard were inseparable during the trip. They took turns being sick and then eventually adapted to the terror under the deck. After the third week, the crew took pity on their cargo and would let a few of the migrants come up to the top deck for fresh air. When Thomas and Bernard reached the deck they squinted and protected their eyes from the overcast sky. They gulped in the fresh air and went straight to the rail to watch the waves roll past.
The experience was the most exciting thing in Thomas’ life. The sleek forms of dolphins raced along the side of the ship and occasionally one would jump out of the water and slip back in. When he looked closely he could see they had spots along their grey sides. They seemed to play with the waves the ship made and race each other. Bernard would clap when the dolphins jumped out of the water and whistled at them. They seemed to respond by jumping more and occasionally chattering back at the humans. Thomas was filled with the feeling that going to America would be full of opportunity and wonders.