My Grandmother, Annie Keeley, emigrated to the United States from Ireland in 1920. She landed in New York on May 17th, 1920 after an 8-day journey in steerage on a ship named the SS Caronia. I only know this from finding her name on a ship manifest online.
I had my grandmother (Mom-Mom) for the first 18 years of my life…she was my best friend. I know it might sound odd that a teen would call her grandmother every day after school but I loved talking with her…like many Irish, she had the gift of gab! Milky tea, is central to my most special memories of her. I loved the days when she was watching my siblings and I and afternoon tea would be waiting when we arrived home from school. Tea…with milk and sugar, was something only our Mom-Mom made for us. It was an Irish thing. When I was little I loved to sleep over at her house and sometimes she would take me for afternoon tea at her friend Margret O’Gara’s house. All the Irish ladies were there…I felt so special and included. They taught me how to read the leaves at the bottom of the cup and when it was my turn, Mom-Mom and her friends always proclaimed that what I saw in the leaves had to be true!
My grandmother never told me about her journey to the U.S. or why she left Ireland although I know now that many left from a lack of employment. Luckily, some of her brothers and sisters joined her here later so I know she wasn’t lonely but I’m sure she must have missed her home and her family…especially in the beginning.
I recently saw the movie Brooklyn and it stirred a longing in me to know more about my grandmother, her homeland and her voyage. In Brooklyn, Eilis Lacy has a journey similar to what I know about my grandmother’s immigration to America. I wish I could talk to Mom-Mom, to find out what it was like coming to a new country by herself…at 19…in the bowels of a ship. From what I gather, the movie’s representation of the rough voyage was fairly accurate. I can’t imagine enduring such a cramped, rough passage for 8 days by myself at 19.
I have seen Brooklyn a number of times since its recent release. I can’t get enough, I don’t know why and I don’t care. This movie stirred something in me that was lying dormant. Every time I watch that movie I think of my grandmother at 19. I am longing to go back to Ireland to be where my grandmother was. To smell the same air, dip my feet in her favorite Galway Bay and walk barefoot on the same green grass.
I’m suddenly having cravings for a full Irish breakfast and to savor the art of brown bread slathered with Irish butter! I long for the daily ritual of sweet, milky tea served in china cups with loose leaves. In the evenings I want to haunt the local pubs, sip a pint of Harp while the sounds of sessions and brogues wash over me. I like the Irish. From my experience they are friendly and funny.
I want to see the town where my Mom-Mom was born…Brickens, Claremorris, County Mayo and hopefully locate a relative or two, or at least someone who knows that she was there.
I want to go back to Ireland, carrying my Mom-Mom in my heart.
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