Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Martin Kearney

Martin Kearney:
My name is Martin Kearney. I was born in the Blascaod Mór in 1931. My mother died- I hardly remember her. I was too young, my father brought us all up and my sister, the oldest, who was fifteen, her name was Kate.

He was very young and he died, Shamus, he was very young, he died and the people on the island made their own coffins and buried him on the island- they used to bury the young there all the time on the island. Then I had an older brother who was two years old than me- Sean. He got sick after Christmas and we couldn’t get him to a doctor. He was there for a while suffering for a week and then all of a sudden he died. He stayed three days in the house dead. That turned me against it- I didn’t care about it anymore.

So after that, that’s when Earnon de Valera came around to visit all the islands. To try to get everyone off the island; he didn’t have to wait for me. I left anyway and came to this country. I left in ’51.

(Living on the island was really hard) Oh yeah…. But we didn’t know the difference we didn’t know anything else. Everything had to be done in season. When you catch the mackerel, it had to be in season, the sheep.. and it lasts a lot longer when you cure it. It will have the same flavor.

My brother Tom left the year after me. My father moved out with my sister Cate in Ballydavid. We got rid of everything we had the sheep, whatever everything we had. That was the end of it. Did they move out before the official evacuation? Yes in 51 they come back to Springfield.

(I stayed with) my Uncle. On Moorin Street and my Aunt. It took me 7 days to come over here I came over on the Georgia big boat out of Cork. I had a few friends of mine who were back here on vacation, Mrs. Skaheen, Mrs. Crohan, Mrs kehoe, lived on Mystic street off Carew Street, we had a lot of fun with them.

Coming to Canada first then we went to New York it was late at night it was after 5 o’clock they wouldn’t let us land because it was too late the tugs wouldn’t take the boat in. I was looking at that place I said America holy mackerel all the lights. I said, “what am I going to do? I’ll be lost forever.”

I’m here on 70 Boylon Street since 1953, and I never stopped working and I didn’t leave my life yet she is still with me.

Go raibh míle maith agat go léir. Tog go bragh bog e. Take it nice and easy.

Music: Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin “Traditional Music from Clare and Beyond,” The Munster Bacon and Come Along with Me (jigs).”

Maggie Kearney

Maggie Kearney:
I was born in the Blasket Island and brought up there until I was sixteen and then I left. I went to Dunquin to work. I went to Dingle and that's it--- that's how far I went.

Music: Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin “Traditional Music from Clare and Beyond,” "An Páistín Fionn and An Cúisín Bán."

Monday, May 12, 2008

Independent Study- Blasket Island to Springfield

Today I found out I would have the chance to do an independent study on ethnographic research regarding Ireland, specifically the Great Blasket Island. Last year I went to Ireland for three weeks and fell in love with the culture. Taking a ferry over to the Blasket Island was exciting as I felt as if I was in a time machine bound for the 1800’ s-1900. My grandmother, Mary (Sullivan) Foley, mother was born on the Blasket Island so I grew up hearing many stories. My project is to research people who live in the Springfield, MA area who had been brought up in the Blasket Island and eventually migrated to Springfield, MA to the Hungry Hills.

The Great Blasket Island, off the Dingle Peninsula of Ireland, was evacuated in 1953. In order to reach the mainland, islanders had to row small canoes through treacherous seas for three miles. This made it hard for islanders to go to church, see doctors, etc. Although the hardships of island life were clearly evident, most of the inhabitants loved living on the island. Today it is still uninhabited and serves as a major historical site in which visitors can learn about the Irish culture. Many people migrated to Springfield, Massachusetts after the evacuation. In doing this project, I hope to be able to look at the Island culture then and its descendents, to see what of that culture still remains in Springfield today.

Luckily I have learned my grandma has four cousins living in Springfield, MA who grew up on the Great Blasket Island. Hopefully I can interview all four of them in order to get a wide range of answers on which to base part of my research. I am also going to read a few books on the side- in order to learn more about the Blasket Islands and to better formulate questions to ask.
The four people I hope to interview are Martin Kearney, Michael Kearney, and Mauried Kearney who are all siblings. The other woman is Maureen Kearney who is cousins with the three previously mentioned. Roxanne has lent me a tape recorder in which I will record all interviews.

I have started reading The Islandman, which is a touching book on the Island’s people and culture.
The fact that I have visited the Great Blasket Island and am now doing this project is very helpful. As I am reading The Islandman right now, I am able to say “Hey I know where the strand is!” or “I have seen the schoolhouse!” It is awesome to be able to connect what I saw to the events in the book. I am able to put myself in the authors place and imagine each and every situation that he describes in the book.

In one chapter of The Islandman, the author Thomas O’ Crohan, describes his first day of school in 1866 when he was ten years old. He describes how excited he was on his first day and how he became intimidated once he was inside, since it was one big room with about twelve other children, boy and girls of different ages. I plan on asking my interviewees all about school; I find it interesting that they all went to school together; how did this work since they were all different ages? What did they learn at this time?

Another book I was able to read was A Pity Youth Does Not Last by Micheal O'Guiheen. He was the last in a line of poets of the Great Blasket Island. This book showcases the island's struggle to survive and the migration of island inhabitants to America.

Yesterday I drove home to Springfield to interview Mauried Kearney. Turns out she lives five houses down from my Grandparents. Very convenient! I went to her house with my Grandfather, who also was born in Ireland, my Dad, and Mauried’s daughter. Mauried was extremely funny. As we all walked in the door she was pressuring us to take whiskey shots with her. Needless to say, I was able to hear many stories from many different perspectives. Mauried still has a very strong accent. When I asked Mauried if she was sad when she left the Island she replied “Oh God no! I was never an Island girl!” Having seen the beautiful Island personally, I found it hard to believe that one would not be sad to leave- but after hearing the tales of the Island- I realized how hard life had been- and maybe even more so to be a girl. I stayed and chatted at Mauried’s house for 3 hours.

One story that I have always heard or read about is the story of the death of Sean Kearney. Mauried told me he was her cousin and also told me about his death. He got very sick. At the time of his sickness there was a bad storm so no one from the Island could go to get a doctor. Sean died. This event, many believe, is what led to the evacuation of the Island.

When I was home on spring break last week I was supposed to interview Martin,
Michael, and Maureen. Unfortunately Michael and Maureen were having health problems and were not able to be interviewed. I was able to interview Martin, who is a kind, lovable, funny older man.

In interviewing Martin, I also was able to go to his house. Even from the outside of the house you can tell an Irishman lived there. Irish plaques and figures marked the outside of the house. Inside the house the Irish pride was even stronger. More Irish sayings, pictures, china, and green decorations were everywhere! Martin was also very funny. He told me he wished he had met me in Ireland when he was a boy- he would have wanted to be my boyfriend! Sitting with Martin, my Grandmother, and Martin’s life we engaged in a two-hour lively conversation. Martin was extremely proud to be telling me about his life and pulled out many pictures and objects to demonstrate this to me.

It feels great to have my interviews done. I wish I could have interviewed Maureen and Michael but life is unpredictable and one has to make the best out of every situation! I now need to sit down and edit my interviews. I am nervous that there was too much background noise on the tapes; we’ll see what happens!

Both Mauried and Martin talked of many of the same things Tomas O' Crohen wrote of in The Islandman. One thing that they all spoke of how their houses were built and everything was mainly in one room. The fireplace in all three of their houses were the main focal point- as it was used to heat water to wash with and to drink, cook food, and heat the house in the cold weather. When I asked Mauried and Martin what they would like to see happen to the Blasket Island they both said they would like Ireland to preserve the island. They would like to see it turned into a national state park. I think this would be a great idea: either the island could stay the way it is now or it could become a place like Sturbridge Village. People dressed in time period clothes could be moving about the island performing jobs, telling stories, attending school, such as was done one day long ago on the island.

I just began editing the interviews using audacity. I forgot exactly how to use the editing tool so I had to go online and search for directions. Once I found the directions the hardest part was how time consuming it is to edit each second of the interview tapes. Oh well we will see how it goes!

As I am reviewing the interview tapes I can’t help but to reflect back on my trip to the Great Blasket Island. I remember sitting on top of the hill and getting emotional looking out at the water and beauty surrounding me. The sights around me were unreal; almost as if I were back at the Grand Canyon where everything looked like a watercolor painting.

In doing this project I met two people who have impacted my life. The most important people in Martin and Mauried’s lives are their family. They are very proud of their families and the country they were born in. When you hear stories of people’s lives often you are able to look at your own life and reevaluate it. When they lived on the Blasket Island the work was tough, the days were long, and sometimes it felt like they were cut off from civilization. Today, in the United States, life has completely changed. They both own phones, computers, and various other forms of technology. They have seen and experienced two extreme sides of life. Much of their Irish culture is still apparent today.
Great Blasket Islands

Here is a blog post I wrote May 2007 after visting the Great Blasket Island:

As I walked up to the ruined houses of the Great Blasket Islands it was as if I was looking through a peephole into another person’s life. I could imagine my great grandmother, aunts, and cousins in their long skirts caring for their families. I pictured them chatting at the freshwater spring while they waited for water to trickle into their buckets. From the top of the island, gazing at the mainland, I recalled the stories my grandma and grandpa had told of the struggles islanders were faced with everyday to make it to church, get food, find a doctor, and bring the dead back to the mainland.

Finally, the editing is done!! Now I need to put together a presentation in Soundslides and show it to Roxanne. Hopefully, making doing with what interviews I was able to do, the final piece came out good! In doing this project I was able to peek into two people’s lives that share my heritage. I learned all about the Blasket Island, the west coast of Ireland, and the voyages to Springfield. I can’t wait to go back to Ireland!