I have just finished a wonderful little book, 'The Lone Seagull' a memoir by the late Kate Keane O'Dowd, no relation, about her life in the Kerry Gaeltacht, her move to Dublin and her move to America.
It is available from Maynooth University Celtic Studies Department who translated it from the original Irish, at [email protected]
Kate was born in 1912 in the little town of Murioch in the Kerry Gaeltacht, one of the most beautiful spots on earth. Reading her book is stepping back in time to an era long gone, where the ordinary peasant people had nothing, but they had everything, in terms of companionship, neighborliness and love.
Her descriptions of growing up among the last generation of Irish people who spoke no English is priceless . The times were hard, bitterly so, but the closeness of the village and the ability to help each other through thick and thin is beautifully spelt out.
Times were indeed very hard and Kate had to emigrate to America.
She describes her voyage over from Cobh and her first impressions of America vividly.
There is always something riveting for me in that first description of the New Land, what the emigrant felt.
"I sailed from sorrowful Cobh on the 23rd of June 1939, shedding bitter tears. I missed my mother and father the most. Many's the thought would cross your mind; will I see them again? God granted me the opportunity to do so."
Apartment buildings completely threw her.
Ellis Island footage of Irish arriving reminds us of where we all came from
New generation of Irish emigrants suffer on the streets of London
Irish divided in their attitudes to emigrants
"I well remember the day I left and the day I went ashore. America was completely different to the picture I had of it. I thought they all had little houses for themselves. I had no idea there were six doors on every floor. How could anyone recognize their own door?
"We were four stories up. I don't know how my relations who were big and fat managed that. Practise I suppose --Oh and we were awfully hot in summer time, there wasn't much air conditioning back then."
She also ran into some strange local customs -- the subway and tea bags!
"I had a week's holiday before starting work. Mike brought us to Rockaway. It was the first time saw the sea since we left it.We had a meal together.
The girl left the teapot on the table.
'Mike" I said " there are strange things hanging out of the teapot."
That's the tea you fool
The tea is grand but what's that hanging out?
They're the tea bags.
Have ye no proper tea"
"That was the first time I saw a tea bag , God be with my fine teapot I left behind in Kerry in the embers at the side of the fire at home.
"The same day we took the subway to Rockaway. I'll never forget the terrible noise of that train, You'd never think of getting used to it."
'God Bless us " I told Mike. I'll never be able to make my way around New York.
I'm telling you you have too Mike said --you have no choice.'
And indeed she didn't like many before and after.
A splendid read if you want to experience what many of your Irish forebears went through.