Crossing the Irish Sea

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!

As you might recall from this post, I have a bit of Irish ancestry running through my veins (93%!). Most of my direct ancestors are Irish and those who weren’t often married an Irish man or woman. As such, today has always kind of been a big deal for my family, heritage wise. I am named for an Irish county, after all!

March 13 — Moment of Strength: share a story where a female ancestor showed courage or strength in a difficult situation.

Told you I’d be skipping around with these prompts haha. Anyway, today I’m writing about my 3rd great grandmother, Bridget (McGovern) Kiernan. Regretfully, I don’t know much about the Kiernans. That branch of my tree has always remained elusive to my amateur sleuthing skills (plus, you know how it is with Irish records). Her daughter, Kate, my 2nd great grandmother, has been easier to trace. She lived in New York and can be found with her husband, a lawyer, who shows up in the paper from time to time. Poor Bridget, though, cursed with a common enough name (an Irishwoman named Bridget!) and no relatives to help pin point her. I haven’t been able to trace most of her children either, with the exception of Kate.

The one thing I do know about Bridget, however, is the story of her immigration, which has been passed down to me. In 1987, my Pop Pop (Charles Wills) was visiting Ireland and wanted some information about his family before he went, which a distant cousin in Florida happily supplied. Below is an excerpt of the letter:

They came from Barru (phonetic) in Cavan in what is now Eire. It was there that Philip and Bridget (McGovern) lived with their eight children: ANN; MARGARET; BERNARD; ALICE (my grandmother); KATE (CATHERINE) (your grandmother) and JAMES (twins); ELIZABETH (LIZZIE); and PHILIP.

As is the Irish custom, the family farm had gone to Philip’s older brother, Owen. Philip was a blacksmith, and skilled in making things of forged iron. It would appear that he had a fair education, at any rate he was literate. Every one of his children went to school in Ireland, and the older ones completed their education before coming to America. In the late 1850s when they came to America, Dickens had a great vogue, and they had read all of his that had been published up to that time.

Philip had his own business, and their comfortable home had a lovely garden (when Aunt Kate was an old lady she described it – there was a well and tiger lilies grew around its base. It was so lovely when they were in bloom that people used to come to look at it.) Philip began to ail. When he realized it was terminal, he talked to Bridget and they agreed that when he was gone, she would sell out and with the proceeds take the children to America. Philip died and Bridget carried out his wishes.

By this time, two of her children were already in America. Ann, the oldest, had accompanied Bridget’s mother when she went to join two of her children in New York; and Margaret who had married one Fitzpatrick, a tailor by trade. They had left their little son, who was called Feefee (Philip) with her parents, when they set out for America.

So Bridget with the six of her children that remained in Ireland and little Feefee crossed the Irish Sea, and sailed from Liverpool. They did not go steerage, and had a reasonably comfortable voyage. At any rate, Grandma Alice had a pleasant time, for when they were nearing the port of New York, the ship’s doctor proposed, but she declined.

It’s always remarkable to me that, in the wake of her husband’s death, Bridget had the strength to pack up all the kids and make the journey across the ocean to America.  To be sure, it was easier knowing family would be there to greet them. Still, it couldn’t have been easy leaving everything you’d known for a new life. Perhaps one day I’ll discover where life took her once she reached America?

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One Response to Crossing the Irish Sea

  1. Pingback: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Bridget McGovern | Branching Out

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