Monday, April 15, 2013

The Return Home (much interrupted) Part 3


The Crossroads of Carnowen

Carnowen 2012

Stone cottages- Carnowen

Carnowen townland is part of the Donaghmore parish and sits at the crossroads to Convoy, Raphoe and Castlefinn. All of which are 4 km away from the huddle of a General Store, Presbyterian church and Manse, the old school and community hall and a cluster of small, rather battered looking, stone cottages that are Carnowen. It was from here that Mum and her family had emigrated in 1925.

When we first visited Carnowen, back in 1998, Joy and I had been introduced to the community when we had been invited to a  “viewing” in the old school hall. We had, initially, thought that we were being taken to a funeral wake but had found ourselves looking over the furniture, kitchen utensils and miscellaneous knick-knacks that were the estate of an elderly woman which had been left to the local church.

This time there was no such community event to attend so we could search out more information on the sprawling family tree that records the inter-relationship of the several families that had settled in the town-land from 1604. Our relations held a huge store of family stories that provided a mosaic of events, marriages and relationships which overlapped one another in time and space of a virtual historical continuum. This overlap was somewhat disconcerting as the realisation that an event being recounted with great animation had happened almost three centuries before and not, as we had assumed, in the immediate past.

Once we had adjusted to the concept of an ever flexible time and location of families by townland we could add more detail to the family story and build up images of the men and women who were part of our shared history. The poem I wrote (with considerable poetic license) in 1998 gives an idea of the stories that we were told about the different branches of the family.

"If we travel on to Convoy, set back among the
we come to the family church.
The stones here lean against the wind in green
damp field,
a record for those, like you,
"And here," she said." are John and Margaret. (your
mother's name's from her.)
Rather it's Margaret here.
John's overseas. He died mining.In California.
Lost his leg, then his life.Crushed in a mine collapse.
Gold fever does that to a man.
His name is here.
He wouldn't want Margaret to be lonely.
Her being here and him dry in distant, sun drenched
"And now -This is your Uncle David.
He's your uncle on your Gran'mother's side.
Would be, let's see, two - three generations out.
A man of letters - a lover of words -And women.
Took Julia, his cousin, to wife. Left her here and
With her sister, to seek his fortune in Dublin.
Julia, that's her grave beside him, died in childbirth
some few months later.
Her sister, that's her grave beside the gate, left five
Before she died - of cancer - beside the Liffey."
"And this, you see this grave? That's your cousin, Kate
Albert's daughter's got her name -
She died at 83 waiting for her lover to return.
He lies alone in France.
A skeleton in some deep trench along the Western
But this is life. We can't all find love."
"Then we drive on down the road to Castlefin
They're all there - waiting.
There's Tom, he died - a heart attack - on his wedding
And, Mary, that's his wife, longing for his embrace.
Died of consumption.
There's poor drowned Keith. Dead at Portrush - on
A misfortunate family - all here together.
This fallen angel is your Aunty Norma..Or she
would've been if she'd lived.
She died within the month.
We only now have found her grave Lost - Beneath the
Over here - your Gran'parents. George and Tilly sleep
closer now 

Than they later did in marriage.
Your mother's ashes are here as well -
Her sisters' wait on mantles keep their husbands
company still -
We forgive the mason's RIP
This is, then, your family.
Here in the land

However, when it came to adding specific details to my grandfather and grandmother’s families the paucity of available records and memories left me with hints of answers to family questions about inherited family names but no direct connections to explain or account for their retention. So how and why my Aunts had the middle names of Morrison and Taylor or my Grandfather was J.G.Orr Bates  remain as mysteries to unravel once I can access Births, Deaths And Marriage records.

We pilgrimaged to the remains of different family homesteads scattered between the town-lands that made up the parish and discovered the remains of door steps and porches burred under grass and weeds, the remains of large family homes gradually crumbling into the paddocks and, occasionally, a house that had withstood the tides of emigration and was still occupied. However, all of the sites remained living and populated in the memories  and stories of our hosts. (A feature we, at home in New Zealand, would do when the NZ families gathered for a reunion in January 2013.)
Breaghy 1905

On the other hand, the town land of Corravady where my Grandmother had lived in 1901 was no more than a name recorded on the ordinance map in the middle of a forest.

We were taken to Portrush where we were shown the boarding house once owned by the almost legendary (at least to those of us bought up on family stories in NZ) Aunt Ena. The boarding house had been, according to Mum, been a popular visiting place for the family prior to their departure for New Zealand in 1925.

While to us 1925 was a century ago to some, in Carnowen, it was no more than the recent past for some of the locals for when we been to the “viewing” both Joy and I had become aware tat we were being followed around the hall by a woman who appeared to have focussed her attention on me. We, on being introduced, discovered why as she confidently declared: “You’re Stella’s boy” and that I was “obviously a Thompson” and that she had farewelled my Grandparents and Mum, who was, at that time, 5 years old, when the family had left Carnowen.

Later, we were to meet more family members and, from their photograph albums, add images to the family tree - a genuine putting of names to faces as the earlier post on the Bates Family reunion shows.

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