Family History on St. Patrick’s Day

I went out to run an errand on Wednesday and spotted someone walking along wearing a green sweater, green skirt, and green tights. None of them were precisely the same shade of green, nor did they blend in a completely harmonious manner, but they did convey a brazen greenness.

That’s when I realized that, even though I knew it was St. Patrick’s Day, I was not wearing anything green. Fortunately, I was also not wearing anything orange. This is important among those of us who can trace some of their heritage back to the Irish Diaspora.

My Irish ancestors were not Orangemen. My great-great grandfather, Florence McCarthy, followed his brother Dennis to the States in about 1850. They were McCarthys from County Cork.

My grandmother Omega was devoted to her grandfather. He named her — he was a scholar of classics (like my nephew, his great-great-great grandson) and taught Latin and Greek before taking a job with the railroad.

My grandmother was the only person I knew growing up who despised the English. I may have picked up her distaste from some discussion about the coronation of Elizabeth II, though I would have been a tiny child then, but at any rate it was very plain.

This was in the 1950s, when the “special relationship” between the U.S. and the U.K. was in full flower. Everybody loved the English. Anglophilia seeped into our culture at every turn. But it did not move my grandmother.

I always knew my grandmother considered herself Irish, though she never set foot in Ireland. (I don’t think she ever left the U.S. except for a trip or two to Mexico.) But I never really understood her dislike of the English until one day, some years after she died, when my father got to telling family stories.

Great-great granddaddy Florence started to go blind in his old age (he, like my grandmother, lived into his 90s) and came to live with his daughter Katie (my great-grandmother) who ran a hotel in Christoval, Texas, near San Angelo. Christoval is on the South Concho River and was something of a vacation place back in the day. There were mineral baths and such for those suffering from consumption. (My grandmother met my grandfather because his family came out to Christoval from the Dallas area for their health.)

Florence was no slouch. Despite his failing vision, he used to cut wood for the wood-burning stove on which my great-grandmother cooked meals for her boarders and family.

When neither he nor my grandmother (who helped her mother run the hotel) were working, they would sit on the porch and she would read to him. I always pictured her reading to him from Irish folktales, since she loved them so much.

But while I’m sure she read to him from many literary works, she likely also read him the news. When my father told me this particular story, I did a few calculations and figured out the approximate dates.

And it dawned on me: I bet my grandmother read her grandfather the news about the Easter Uprising in 1916.

I never knew my great-great grandfather, of course, and his reasons for leaving Ireland are lost in the mists of time. Perhaps he only came because his brother had made a place here; perhaps he was one step ahead of the British authorities himself.

But judging by my grandmother’s take on Ireland and England, it’s pretty clear that he was on the side of Irish independence. And that he made that very clear when he learned of the Easter Uprising.

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