Its raining this morning. Duller and slightly cooler than its been. A day where you don’t feel guilty for not being outside in the sunshine. I think that’s a feeling that’s residual of my past life in the UK – its not something I see torturing the souls of natural born Skips.
Yesterday was a landmark of sorts in a number of ways. Our new puppy had his first proper walk and despite having legs all of two inches long he kept up the pace with the very much larger labradoodle all the way. He did sleep well,though.
And on another front I cleaned out a cupboard that held family, legal and social documentation going back a rather long way. Ancient photographs and postcards a hundred years old of family.
There’s a postcard from my Granda to my Granma, written when she was in service in a ‘big hoose’ in Partick, telling her that he’d had word from his sister that a letter had arrived from Ireland and that he would tell her all about it when he would call for her the following Sunday afternoon. To show that romance wasn’t dead, the picture on the postcard was of some serious men in rolled up sleeves who were, according to the caption, firefighters waiting to descend into the pit at Cadder where 23 men lost their lives. Very romantic!
There’s a photo of my Grandad’s family in Edwardian dress, or possibly Victorian. This was the family – my great Grandad and Granma and their children Mary, Sarah, Bridget and John (Granda thomas was born after they got to Scotland) – who emigrated from the tiny village of Glenties in Donegal to the then booming city of Glasgow. From wild green fields to the dirt and mire of the industrial revolution.
I went to Glenties four years ago. Even today it has only one street. I spoke with the people who live there. They don’t remember the McGintys but I saw the old men, how they looked and how they spoke, and realised the gene pool tells far more than memories ever can. I felt like I was looking at Granda.
There aren’t any photos of my Granma, Roseann, when she was young, which is a shame. She was brought up on a farm near Belleek in Fermanagh, where the farmhouse itself straddled the border between the British ruled North and the Independent South.
Because of the inheritance laws, meaning there was no living available for her from the farm, she was sent to Glasgow to go into service for a wealthy family. Must have been then when she was courted by Granda Thomas. I hear tell she was actually 12 years older than Thomas – he must have liked the more mature woman.
She bore him six children: Rose, twins Tommy and Ann, Alice, John (my dad) and James. Rose died just a couple of years ago, and my dad went in 08. Tommy died young – I remember his chair sitting where it always used to, but empty, and it was a sad sight in the tiny living room/kitchen. He was a gentle and happy man, and apparently something of a self-taught scholar.
Ann and Alice died in the late 1980s and James died at either two or six, depending on who you listened to, of measles. My dad was only a young boy when it happened but he remembered my Granma asking, pleading with my Granda to get the doctor, but Granda said no. The inference was that they didn’t have the money. Eventually he relented and left to fetch him, but while he was gone, James passed away. According to my dad, it was not a peaceful passing and the experience haunted him his whole life.
And all of this life took place in a single end in Maryhhill. 61 Oran Street. It’s not there now, that part of the street, but I remember it well, visiting often with my dad until it was demolished in the early 70s.
Photos, documents, telling a story of families who are no longer here, and yet they are important to us because they tell us where we came from and give us a sense of place and belonging – a bit like Sally Morgan’s important book My Place. Glenties was my Corunna Downs.
There were legal documents that told the story of the first house I bought, a lifetime ago. The documents I did keep were the ones detailing the correspondence I had with the Australian Consulate over my application to come to Australia.
They detailed the somewhat tricky move of having my dad, who lived with me, as part of my family unit and included in the emigration application; the jumping through hoops of the different medical examinations that were demanded for him, and eventually the granting of the visas.
And then another letter from the office of then-immigration minister Philip Ruddock congratulating us on our decision to become sworn-in Australians, outlining our responsibilities and wishing us well in our new life as naturalised Aussies. I’ll keep these, because while he’s totally indifferent at 15 years old, maybe sometime down the track David, or one of his kids or grandkids, might want to know how their family came to be in Australia. One day they might fall on the details of our family history as hungrily as I do of my family now gone.
From Glenties to Glasgow to Adelaide in 110 years. I wonder what the next 110 will see?