Though they traveled far and wide, Sailortown's natives kept their hometown in their hearts

Sailortown people traveled far and wide. Last year we had an Australian family who came to scatter their mum and dad's ashes in the place they left almost 50 years ago.

Read More: Bring life back to the history area of Sailortown, Belfast

From Sailortown to New South Wales and back again

The family lived in two rooms above the American bar in Sailortown in the 1960s. However, when the 'troubles' broke out in 1968 they decided to leave Ireland for the good of their children and emigrated to New South Wales (NSW).

The family prospered, but the parents never forgot their roots in Sailortown. The father died first and was cremated, and when their mother died, their children took their ashes home to Sailortown. They finished their trip with an evening of music and celebration with long lost cousins in the American Bar. We presented them with a book of photographs of the old streets and the people who lived there.

From Sailortown to New York

This year, Dennis O'Neill connected with us from the States. He'd seen our Facebook post about Sailortown Seamen in WW1 and recognized his grandfather's name. 

William McCann WW1 Seaman bio

William McCann WW1 Seaman bio

Dennis' grandparents were married during WW1 in our St Joseph's Church in Sailortown. His Grandfather William was in the Royal Navy throughout the war, where he won a medal for bravery. When it ended in 1919 he joined the Merchant Navy; he only did one trip, to New York, where he jumped ship and found work as a stonemason.

Belfast in the 1920s was undergoing a period of sectarian strife and Sailortown was a dangerous place to live. William managed to get the money together and sent for his wife and children. This is them arriving in New York in 1927:

William at right, Cecelia his wife, Agnes McHugh (a Belfast neighbors grandchild) My mom Maureen McCann O’Neill, Agnes’ brother Edward and my Uncle Jim McCann. The day of their arrival from Ireland at Coney Island NYC. 1927.

William at right, Cecelia his wife, Agnes McHugh (a Belfast neighbors grandchild) My mom Maureen McCann O’Neill, Agnes’ brother Edward and my Uncle Jim McCann. The day of their arrival from Ireland at Coney Island NYC. 1927.

Dennis told us: "My grandfather William McCann married my grandmother in St Joe’s in 1916. He served in the British Navy from 1912 to the early 1920’s being awarded the DSM for actions against enemy submarines. He jumped ship in New York and sent for my grandmother, my mother, and uncle who were living under difficult circumstances in Belfast a few years later after setting up a home here in the states. Our family has thrived here since then.

"BTW [by the way] my uncle James McCann, the little boy all the way on the left, enlisted in the US Army during WW2 and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

"He spent almost 30 years in the army serving 2 tours in both Korea and Viet Nam and was awarded the bronze star."

William McCann Sailortown Seaman WW1

William McCann Sailortown Seaman WW1

William also worked on The Empire State Building construction in the 1930s, a hard-working and dedicated family man by all accounts.   

Dennis says "We had two concrete spheres in our garden when I was a child. These he salvaged from the Astor Hotel which was demolished to build the ESB. We always called them Grompa's balls."

Here in Sailortown, we're glad to hear all the stories of local people who made their homes far away but always kept a little bit of Sailortown Belfast in their hearts.

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Sailortown arrives at Coney Island in New York City in 1927.Dennis O'Neill