Thursday, July 4, 2013

My Fourth of July Story

     Happy Independence Day, Friends!  I often refer to myself as an Irish Girl, but truthfully, I am second generation American and enormously proud to be so.  However, one of the gifts of having Irish ancestry is the beautiful way that through storytelling past generations are a very real part of our present.

     And so it is that I know the story of my Pop's journey from Belfast to Boston as if I were there.

     In the early part of the last century, during what the Irish refer to as "The Troubles,"  my great-grandmother, Anne Marie,  ran what she always called "her hotel" in Belfast in Ireland.  (All of Ireland was still part of the UK then.)  Really, it was a pub with a few rooms on the second floor.

     My clan is Catholic.  Nobody has ever talked about what he did, but my great-grandfather, Hugh, like so many Irish Catholic men in Belfast at the time,  was a target of the Black & Tans.  My grandfather, John Lennon (no, not THAT John Lennon) was a baby.  It was a very dangerous time to be a male, Catholic baby in Belfast.  Like something out of a Bible story, grown men were murdering baby boys so that they didn't grow up to be Catholic men.  My great-grandmother used to hide her only son under the bed at night to keep him from being killed.

     As the story goes, Hugh was on a hunting trip in Scotland with some of his mates when a band of Black & Tans came to the house looking for him.  In anger that he wasn't home, they went to the pub across the street.  The publican had seven sons.  They were lined up against the bar and executed.  It was horrific and it terrified my otherwise fearless great-grandmother.  That very night, she packed up my Pop, her nephew (who worked as a handyman at the hotel), and the niece that worked as Pop's nanny and fled to London.  She wired my great-grandfather, who met them there.  They never returned to Belfast.  From London, they sailed to New York.

     My great-grandmother must have been a successful business woman.  Unusual for Irish immigrants at the time, they traveled in cabins, not in steerage.

     When they finally landed in New York Harbor, it was July 4, 1921.  The city was in full celebration with Naval ships joining in by firing in salute.  Upon hearing the gunfire, my great-grandmother exlaimed, "I didn't leave Belfast to land in the middle of a fokking war!"   Obviously, she was eventually convinced to leave the ship and begin a new life in America.

     Because of this auspicious start, my Pop, who was as stoic as a statue most of his days, made a tremendous fuss about July 4th every year.  My childhood is filled with memories of family barbecues in his backyard with too much food, lawn games, a walk to the best parade viewing spot in town, and best of all, the rowdiest jam sessions ever.  Musician relatives and friends would lead the rest of us.  (I will never forget the site of my father's Uncle Pete wailing away on a garbage can as part of the percussion session.)

     I owe my comfortable American life to so many, but it all began with a formidable Irish woman hellbent on protecting her family from terrorism.

     As my Nana (Pop's wife) always said, "Happy Fourth of Julilly!"

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